How Does Exercise Make You Feel Happier, Exactly?

Girl at an indoor rock climbing.

Exercise is vital for a healthy body – it can help you manage your weight, keep your muscles strong, and combat disease as you get older. But exercise is key to a healthy mind too! Frequent exercise has been proven to decrease levels of stress and anxiety, and contribute to a generally happier mood.

But how does this work exactly? Basically, when you’re running, lifting weights, or sweating it out at Barre Class, “happy chemicals,” known as endorphins, are being released in your brain. Structurally, these chemicals are similar to opiate painkillers and anti-anxiety meds, but they are completely natural. Exercise isn’t the only activity that makes your brain release endorphins though – these chemicals are also released when you snack on chocolate, have great sex, or laugh with friends!

Endorphins are chemicals that fight pain and stress, and make us feel relaxed and carefree. When you exercise, your heart rate goes up, and you’re pushing your body to different physical limits that usual. Your brain reads this as stress and releases endorphins to combat feelings of pain and anxiety. The result is a “natural high” that will keep you positive and energetic all throughout spinning class.

These “happy chemicals” also keep working after you get off the treadmill. Intense workouts, such as fast runs, can cause lots of endorphins to be released, which in turn can trigger feelings of euphoria. This is sometimes called “Runner’s High,” and overtime it can contribute to increased energy and a more positive outlook on life. This means that exercise doesn’t only make you happier, it can also make you more productive and lead to better self-esteem.

Endorphins also help your brain stay sharp. If you’re feeling sluggish or unimaginative at work, the endorphins from a quick gym sesh can help you stay motivated and get more creative. So if you’re struggling to get things done, a quick hit of endorphins could be your way to success.

Following your workout, endorphins help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, which will help you cool down and breathe evenly. They also increase feelings of relaxation, which explains why you might feel super chilled-out in the hours following a cardio session. By bedtime, you should be tired out by your workout, and your endorphins will have helped your brain and body relax. As a result, you will be drowsy and ready for a good sleep. That way, you’ll wake up completely refreshed and be ready to take on the day – which in turn will lead to a happier state of mind.

Even if you’re not a gym bunny, we recommend working out on a regular basis to help you stay happy and healthy. There are plenty of fun ways to get in some exercise outside of the gym! Try going on a hike, biking across your city, or attending a fun group class. Whether you’re stretching it out at yoga or getting down to Beyoncé at the club, getting out and moving is a great way to boost your mood.