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Being Well Versus Being Happy

Last week we discussed some of the brain chemicals that are released when you exercise. A number of them reduce stress and improve relaxation. There are even some chemicals that get released which can make you feel happy.

There’s a difference between feeling happy in a fleeting moment and feeling satisfied. You might’ve heard of a runner’s high, which is a feeling of euphoria that runners get. This feeling effectively boosts their stamina and lasts for a period of time during or after their run.

However, the runner’s high eventually goes away. Exercise makes you feel better, certainly, but that feeling isn’t actually limited to your workout. More and more research is uncovering the long-term mental health benefits of an exercise routine.

Before diving into the research, it’s important to understand the limitations of such studies. Many of them are observational, not experimental. That means the results can point to interesting trends, but they don’t imply that one thing leads to another.

A second caveat is the nature of the measurements. In studies that measure feelings of wellbeing (the long-term version of happiness) the researchers are asking questions and depending on truthful answers. If I ask you how happy you are on a scale of 1-10, will you answer honestly? And, will your gauge be the same as someone else’s?

With those caveats in mind, let’s dive into the research. Recently, studies have been published that suggest consistent, intense workouts improve overall feelings of wellbeing. That means you’re happier in the long term, and more satisfied with your life.

This is true across age groups, and it seems that less intense exercise routines make you feel less happy. Another study found that it only takes about 4 weeks of consistent exercise to cause that long-term feeling of wellbeing.

These results are interesting, because they imply that the short-term release of brain chemicals isn’t the only reason why working out improves your mental health. There appears to be something else going on. Ask anyone who’s been exercising consistently for years and they may or may not know why it makes them feel better.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of accomplishment you get from workouts. Or the knowledge that you’re capable of more than you previously thought. Maybe life just gets boring if you don’t have any challenges. Whatever the reason, it’s important to focus not just on the physical benefits of your workout, but the mental impact. Pay attention to how you’re feeling a week, a month, and a year after you’ve started working out!

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