Does exercise really make you happier?

22 Mar 2023 16:19PM by Kirsty McLean - Head of Wellbeing

mindfulness and meditation


Every year on 20 March, the UN marks International Day of Happiness. It’s a period of time to focus on creating a kinder and happier world through simple daily actions. 

This year, their theme is: “Be mindful. Be grateful. Be kind.” 

There are plenty of ways to adopt this motto in your daily life, including through exercise. 


Let's take a look at the science

It’s a well-known fact that exercise has positive benefits for our health and wellbeing. Whether that’s through boosting your mood, reducing your stress levels, or helping you feel more confident. 

The reason for this is that exercise activates the release of neurotransmitters in your brain making you feel happier and calmer.

You’ve probably heard of the ‘happy hormone’ endorphins. These are the feel-good neurotransmitters that trigger feelings of positivity. When they’re released, endorphins block symptoms of pain and work similarly to sedatives, to help you feel more relaxed. They also promote feelings of pleasure. 

Endocannabinoids are also released when you exercise and are thought to be the neurotransmitter behind the ‘runner’s high’ which is a temporary feeling of real joy that often shows up after intense exercise. 

Exercise also produces a neurotransmitter called dopamine which, as well as helping you feel a sense of pleasure, also helps to manage your heart rate, sleep cycles, mood and motivation. 

Does it matter what type of exercise you do?

It’s thought that particular intensities of exercise produce more of those feel-good sensations than others. But there’s still more work to do to confirm whether more intense workouts, like HIIT, are better at making you feel good compared to gentler movement. 

What is known, is that exercise, at any level, has a positive impact on your state of mind and your emotional wellbeing. 


Practicing mindfulness, gratitude and kindness through exercise

We always say it, but we’ll say it again: keeping active benefits every aspect of of your wellbeing, not just the physical element.

Why not try practicing mindfulness, gratitude and kindness in your next workout session and see how you feel? Here are some ideas of what that might look like: 

• Pay attention to the sensations around you and how you feel. 
If you’re running on the treadmill, how does your body feel when it’s moving? If you’re in a rest period in your Strength and Conditioning or Boxing class, what is your body asking for when it’s time to go again? 

• Try gentle and mindful movement in a Yoga class. (Your instructor will guide you through how to check in with your body.)

• Notice sights, sounds and smells in your outdoor workouts

• Take the time after your workout to thank yourself and your body for doing something good

• Whether you achieved what you wanted to in your workout or not, remember to be kind to yourself. Rather than getting frustrated and caught up in negative self-talk, what else could you say to yourself?

• Treat yourself. Head to the spa to say ‘well done’ for getting your body moving. We know more than anyone that some days, it’s just not easy. 

Got more ideas? We’d love to hear what works for you. Get in touch with us on Instagram. And remember: be mindful, be grateful and be kind. 

Back To Top