When we exercise, most of us are aware of what happens to our body; we build muscle and endurance. With hard work we can achieve physical goals of a flat tummy or set personal records in lifting or speed. But how much do we know about what’s going on in our mind? And how do we maximize the effects?
Science Behind the Shift
Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are responsible for relaying information throughout our brain and body, commanding your heart to pump, lungs to breathe, and stomach to digest, etc. When they are out of balance, they can adversely affect your mood, sleep, concentration, and weight. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. This can be due to several things: stress, poor nutrition, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the fabulous foursome linked to our happiness.
- Dopamine: this chemical supports motivation and focus; it propels us to actualize our goals and exudes a sense of satisfaction when we achieve them. Low levels of dopamine are linked to chronic boredom, fatigue and even depression. Increasing exercise and decreasing your sugar intake can naturally boost dopamine levels.
- Serotonin: this one is probably best known for its association to antidepressants. Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. You can boost your levels by exercise, exposure to sunlight, and meditation.
- Oxytocin: the cultivation of this chemical is essential for building trust, intimacy, and healthy relationships. Positive social interactions and physical touch can boost your levels and make for a more satisfying love life.
- Endorphins: these are released to alleviate pain and stress. In fitness, they manifest when your body gets it “second wind” or “runner’s high.” Aside from exercise, laughing is the best endorphin inducer.
Maximizing Your Happiness Payout
With this modern understanding of what biologically makes us feel good, there is so much incentive to create natural long-term happiness. The connection between feeling better and exercise are pretty well-established, but here are a few ideas to further take full advantage of our positive brain chemicals.
- Reward yourself: dopamine spikes as goals are met and achievements are made. As you accomplish your goals, treat yourself to something you love and set more goals.
- Encourage laughter: working out with friends can naturally lift the mood and encourage endorphins, but when working out solo, consider investing in a web-enabled treadmill that will give you access to your favorite shows, blogs, web comics and more.
- Outdoor exercise: if your primary work-out is in an indoor home or gym setting, switch things up and get out in the sun to lift serotonin. Join an ultimate Frisbee league, search out challenging local hiking and climbing spots, sign up for a half marathon, etc.
- Socialize: if you’re in a relationship, jumpstart your mutual oxytocin levels by engaging in a workout you both enjoy – the more physical contact, the better. If you’re single and looking for love, try new classes, clubs and activities to meet other like-minded people.
Kevin Jones is a freelance writer, researcher and fitness instructor/consultant. He had helped hundreds of people find ways to become more fit and healthy through a balanced life focusing on an individualized approach to their nutrition and fitness. In addition, Kevin has written extensively in the fitness and health industries, including writing for companies such as a ICON Fitness
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