A recent study conducted by Karmel Choi, clinical and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, concluded that exercise can act as an antidepressant. The study found that with an increase in physical activity there is a decreased risk of becoming depressed.

This is not the only study on the topic and you may have already heard that exercises can help improve your mood, fight depression, and increase happiness. But how does it work exactly? What happens in your body when you exercise that makes you feel happier?

What happens during exercise?

But what does exercise do to our bodies to make us feel better? There are certain chemical reactions that happen in different parts of our body when we do physical exercise. 

Your heart beats faster due to the increase in adrenaline levels, increasing the blood flow. You start breathing faster and deeper, allowing more oxygen into your body. The brain releases neurotransmitters, like serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps you move in a controlled way.

Serotonin, in particular, is important for appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire. But even more importantly, it regulates mood and it appears to be linked to depression. Higher levels of serotonin are associated with lower levels of depression. 

Endorphins, on the other hand, help with pain and stress and they are also the reason for the so-called “runner’s high”. Finally, dopamine is a chemical related to pleasure. 

Given all these and even more reactions that happen in our bodies when we exercise, it appears clear that doing some form of physical activity can have a positive effect on our mood and happiness level. 

How long should you exercise for and how often?

There is no need to lift weights for hours weekly or run several miles to rip out the benefits of exercising. Studies have shown that even walking daily for around one hour can be extremely beneficial for your mood and overall health. Going for a brisk walk will get your heart rate up and increase the amount of oxygen you send to your lungs. 

If you are trying to get more exercise done but you are very busy, consider walking to do the groceries or even to work when possible. If you enjoy running, even 15 minutes per day can make a difference.

Adding some form of exercise to your daily routine or finding a different way to move your body will make you feel happier, more relaxed, and can even give you a boost of energy when you’re feeling drowsy. However, if you find yourself constantly in a bad mood, sad or depressed, you may want to consult a doctor.