How Exercise Can Make You Happier -- Even If You Hate It

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One way exercise makes you happier is because it helps you bond with others.

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You know that feeling when you just finished a [/news/how-to-start-an-exercise-routine/ workout] and you feel so much better than before? Sometimes, even when you're not motivated to exercise, the promise of that feeling is enough to motivate you to get to [/news/gym-etiquette-for-newbies-dont-break-these-10-important-rules/ the gym]. You might call that feeling an endorphin rush -- which is not entirely untrue, but it turns out that exercise makes you happier in many different ways.

There's nothing like an exercise-induced "endorphin rush," but according to health psychologist Dr. [ Kelly McGonigal], the endorphins only explain a small part. There are many other ways exercise makes us happier -- by [ lowering stress levels], reducing feelings of [ loneliness and isolation], and helping people relieve [ anxiety] and [ depression], among other benefits.

Keep reading to find out more about the science and psychology behind why exercise makes you happier and why you may want to make more time for it in your own life.
Movement helps you bond with others 
"Movement itself primes you to connect with others. That's just the brain chemistry of it. When you get your heart rate up, when you use your body, when you engage your muscles, it changes your brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier to connect with others and bond, trust other people. It enhances social pleasures like a high five, laughing or a hug," McGonigal said.

Follow a few [/tags/fitness/ fitness] trainers or fitness influencer accounts on social media, and you'll  see them use words like "fit fam," "fit family" or the hashtag [ #fitfam]. The term usually refers to a group of people you workout with regularly, that you also consider a friend or like family because you've bonded over your love of the same workout. McGonigal says this is due in a large part to what happens in your brain when you exercise with others.

"Whoever you move with, whether it's a walking group or maybe a group class, because of the way exercise alters our brain chemistry and outlook, you start to feel a true sense of connection with the people that you're moving with. It's why people will talk about people who they work out with as their 'fitness fam.'" Because it really does give us a sense of belonging, it helps build relationships that can be true friendships and sources of support. And I've seen that happen in my own classes," says McGonigal, who also teaches group exercise classes.

Working out with friends can help boost your happiness.

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Having a "fitness fam" can mean more than just having a group of people you can depend on to work out with you. When you connect with people that have shared values (like valuing your health and wellness) and interests (for whatever type of workout you do), there's automatically a better chance that your relationship will be even stronger since you share these things. And [ experts agree, having strong relationships and connections]in life is one of the most important factors in overall happiness.
Exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression 

You've probably heard that exercise increases endorphins, but it also increases many more brain chemicals that make you feel happy. "When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid -- these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling [ less anxiety] and stress and even less physical pain," McGonigal says.

Exercise is also shown to help some people with depression, which experts say could be to due [ an increase in nerve cell growth] in the brain that happens when you exercise.

Another chemical that is shown to help relieve stress and boost happiness is [ myokine], which your body creates when your muscles contract.

"These myokines begin to change the function and structure of your brain in ways that make you more resilient to stress and can help people recover from depression and even anxiety disorders," McGonigal said.

When you master something difficult -- like a yoga pose -- it gives you a confidence boost. 

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Exercise can help boost your confidence 
When it comes to feeling happier and empowered in life, having confidence is key. 

According to McGonigal, exercise helps boost your confidence because when you workout, you're doing something challenging along with other people (ideally) which gives you a sense of shared accomplishment and teamwork.

"When you move with other people it creates a strong sense of 'bigger than self' possibility that makes people feel more optimistic and empowered," McGonigal said. "And it allows people to feel more empowered about facing the challenges in their own lives. And that's an interesting side benefit of moving with other people, because there's an embodied sense of 'we're in this together' that translates into self-confidence and the ability to take on challenges in your life."

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Exercising outdoors has a effect on your brain similar to meditation
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