Why Does Exercise Make You Happy?

By Athlete's Care on October 14, 2021

Our Toronto physiotherapists, chiropractors, and other sports medicine specialists know, and can see through their clients that exercise doesn’t just have physical benefits, it can work to improve your mood.

Here’s a look at why.

  • Exercise increases the level of serotonin in the blood, a key hormone that regulates mood, along with sleep and appetite.
  • It also increases the level of endorphins, hormones that help you deal with stress, and even reduces the levels of pain you feel.
  • It can help you get a better night’s sleep, which also plays a key role in helping to regulate mood.

How does it work exactly?

The exact mechanisms at work are not yet known, and there are research studies looking into this phenomenon currently.

Some of the research findings so far:

  • In one study of older people who were just starting an exercise regimen, 16 weeks of regular exercise produced about the same results as anti-depressant medication.
  • For patients with depression, adding exercise to an existing medication regimen improved results.
  • Both aerobic exercise and strength training seem equally effective at helping to treat mild to moderate depression.
  • Exercising outside – even just taking a good brisk 20 to 30 minute walk – seems to have an added effect. In one study, people who exercise outdoors reported being more likely to exercise again than those who worked out indoors.
  • British researchers have found that exercising in a natural environment for even five minutes can improve mood.

The Harvard Study

Running for just 15 minutes daily, or walking for at least an hour, is associated with a reduced risk of major depression, according to a study published online January 23 by JAMA Psychiatry. If you’re unsure of where to start or how to ramp up your exercise regimen, our Toronto physiotherapists, chiropractors, and other sports medicine specialists are available with answers and advice.

"We saw a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity," says study author Karmel Choi, a clinical and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood "This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking."

But, is exercise the catalyst – or is is that, when we feel better, we exercise more?

"We wanted to see if there might be a causal connection, in either direction, between physical activity and depression," says Choi. "Does physical activity protect against depression? Or does depression simply reduce physical activity? Our study allowed us to untangle those questions in a powerful new way using genetic data."

The study noted that the type of movement didn’t actually matter.

"What our study would say is that any kind of movement can add up to keep depression at bay. I think that's why our study findings were especially appealing. It didn't say you have to run a marathon, do hours of aerobics, or be a CrossFit master just to see benefits on depression," says Choi.

Regular exercise is the key to a healthy lifestyle at any age, and whether you are a professional athlete or retiree, it has benefits beyond just the physical aspects. If you have any questions about exercise, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Toronto physiotherapy and sports medicine clinics today for a consultation.