Why Your Workout Can Make You Happy

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You may already know that getting active is an important part of a diabetes prevention plan. People who hit a goal of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity can lower their risk for type 2 diabetes by one-third or more. Benefits such as losing weight and lowering diabetes risk are, without a doubt, behind the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP)’s focus on physical activity.

Some of the other benefits of exercise are:

  • Lower risk for heart disease.

  • Reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.

  • Lower blood pressure and reduce stroke risk.

  • Increased strength.

  • Better muscle tone.

  • Lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers.

  • Gain new skills and achieve goals.

These are important and real benefits, but they take a while to achieve. It can take anywhere from days or months to learn a new skill or achieve a fitness goal, to years or decades to prevent Alzheimer’s or cancer. Furthermore, how do you even know if your exercise prevented a disease or delayed its onset?

Not having immediate results can make it harder to get motivated to get active, but as Lark DPP may have pointed out in a recent check-in, there are plenty of immediate results from working out that can motivate you to get moving - now! Levels of hormones and other chemicals in your body change when you exercise so you can feel the benefits as soon as you work out. These can include:

  • Better mood.

  • Sharper focus.

  • Better sleep quality.

  • Increased energy.

  • More confidence.

 

Exercise and Chemical Changes


Exercise affects various natural compounds in your body. Unlike with chronic disease risk, you can feel the effects of chemical changes after a single workout. How is that for instant gratification?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or a chemical in your brain that helps send signals. Activity increases dopamine levels with results including increased feelings of happiness and possible reduced hunger. 

Serotonin is another “well-being” chemical that is increased with exercise. Serotonin is linked to better sleep, clearer focus, and increased energy during the day. Who would not want that benefit after a good workout?

Have you ever heard of a runner’s high? That is the good feeling that athletes such as distance runners get when they have a good workout, and it results from increases in endorphins. These natural chemicals make you feel happier, almost like being on a high, but without any harmful drugs.

 

Doesn’t Exercise Make You Tired?


Exercise can make you breathless and make your muscles burn. Should you worry that being physically active will mean that you will be too tired to make it through the rest of your daily activities? Not at all! Quite the opposite is true. 

To be sure, exercise can tire you out temporarily. A single hard workout can be exhausting if you are not used to that activity or intensity. You may need a nap or feel muscle soreness when you first start working out. 

Soon, your body adapts and you begin to gain, not lose, energy as you get fitter. As your lung capacity increases and your heart and muscles get stronger, the things you do in your everyday life take less effort. You may be able to lift heavier objects and walk further and more quickly without putting in extra effort.

 

More “Happy” Lifestyle Choices


Physical activity is powerful, but it is not the only lifestyle choice that has immediate benefits. What you eat can have quick effects on your well-being. Just as exercise can affect your mood, alertness, sleep quality, and energy, so can food.

These are a few foods and their effects.

Better Mood, Energy, Sleep, and/or Focus Worse Mood, Energy, Sleep, and/or Focus
Vegetables
Fatty fish and other seafood
Nuts and seeds (especially walnuts)
Whole grains
Ground flaxseed
Coffee and green tea (early in the day)
Reduced-fat dairy products
Eggs
Beans, peas, and lentils
Refined starches/grains
White potatoes
Sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages
Fried foods
Coffee (in afternoon or evening)
Fatty foods, such as fatty red and processed meat and foods with butter or shortening

Weight loss and better long-term health can be motivating, but short-term benefits can help make those daily healthy choices easier. Knowing that you will feel better, perform better all day, and sleep better at night if you get active and eat right can be enough to sway you towards better choices. Lark DPP will be there to cheer you on and guide you in making small steps towards increased well-being.

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health