The Hidden Benefits of Exercise: Happiness, Hope, & Social Connection
The book The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage explores how movement makes us feel.
The bestselling author of The Willpower Instinct offers an intriguing book that doesn’t tell us why we should exercise but instead shows us how to fall in love with movement. I often explore the “Why” of exercise, but this writing explores why the action is integral to our happiness and humanity.
Today, we shift gears to go beyond the familiar arguments in favor of exercise. We’ll look at why the movement is central to optimizing our happiness and our humanity.
- How can you use movement to create happiness, meaning, and connection?
- Activity connects with some basic human joys.
- Exercise can help reduce depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Dr. McGonigal offers five ways movement can help you enjoy life:
- Activate pleasure. With exercise, our brains release neurotransmitters (mainly dopamine and endocannabinoids) that can generate a natural high similar to marijuana.
- Become more social. Endorphins — natural neurotransmitters released during sustained exercise — can help us to bond us to others.
- Help with depression. Exercise in nature may improve your mood. An Austrian study found that for those who had previously attempted suicide, mountain hiking added to medical treatment reduced suicidal thinking and hopelessness.
- Reveal hidden strength.
- Boost your brain with myokines. Ultra-endurance athletes have higher levels of proteins called myokines. These substances help our body to burn fat, can act as natural antidepressants, and appear to reduce cognitive decline. You don’t need to be an ultra-endurance athlete, either. Just an hour of physical activity such as bicycle riding, can release myokines.
Move! As the author observes: “Your muscles give you hope. Your brain will orchestrate pleasure. And your entire physiology will adjust to help you find the energy, purpose, and courage you need to keep going.”
I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I hope you have a joy-filled day.
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The initial content is also in my blog post (I provide this reference, as robots may see the writing on the Internet, and regard it as plagiarism: