Skip to main content

Does Exercise Really Make you Happy?

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP3 Comments

We’ve all heard it before, exercise makes people happy! The runner’s high – that feeling of happiness that keeps people running and training for marathons. That special energy you get after working out in a group or alone. Even the movie Legally Blonde references happiness from exercise endorphins! But is it real or just a myth?

How does exercise make you happy?

One aspect of life that can greatly impact your overall sense of happiness and well-being is stress. Stress can dampen your mood and lead to increased risk of illness.2 There is good news: Exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress!

According to research, exercise has many benefits including decreased risk of depression, improved health status and improved reports of happiness.1 Concurrently, a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with many poor health outcomes.3

When we exercise, the body releases chemicals that boost your sense of well-being and suppress hormones that cause stress and anxiety.1 Among the chemicals released are endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine neurotransmitters which are related to pain and depression emotions.3 Exercise also reduces hormone activity of adrenalin and cortisol which promote feelings of anxiety and tension.3

How much exercise do we need for these benefits?

You do not need to participate in demanding physical activity to reap the benefits of exercise. Walking, stretching and low-level strength training can all be effective in combatting stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that more physical activity throughout the day has been linked to individuals who report feeling happier.3

Easy Ways to Increase Physical Activity Throughout Your Day

  • Park in the back of the parking lot so you have to walk further to the store
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Take your dog for a walk
  • Search your area for local bike trails, kayak locations or hiking paths
  • Take a day trip to a local park for a walk
  • Go for a family bike ride
  • Take breaks when working at a computer by getting up to walk the hallway
  • Find a workout partner
  • Walk up and down the sidelines of your children’s sporting games instead of sitting in the bleachers.
  • Walk the golf course instead of driving a cart

Physical activity is a great way to decrease stress and improve your overall mood and happiness. The key point of doing more physical activity is to find something you enjoy!

If you would like to learn more from an Athletico physical therapist, please use the button below to request an appointment!

Request an Appointment

1. Richards J, Jiang X, Kelly P, Chau J, Bauman A, Ding D. Don’t worry, be happy: cross-sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 European countries. BMC Public Health. 2015;15:53. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1391-4.
2. Booth FW, Roberts CK, Laye MJ. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Comprehensive Physiology. 2012;2(2):1143-1211. doi:10.1002/cphy.c110025.
3. Lathia N, Sandstrom GM, Mascolo C, Rentfrow PJ. Happier People Live More Active Lives: Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity. Krukowski RA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(1):e0160589. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160589.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:
Tara Hackney, a physical therapist in Marion, IA, enjoys working with all patient types, especially gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers. She is the prominent blogger for Athletico's Gymnastic/Cheer Program. With an orthopedic specialization and training in dry needling and Graston technique, Tara hopes to answer your questions about injuries and injury prevention in an easy-to-understand manner. She hopes to ease fears surrounding pain and injuries, address concerns about recovery, and provide tips to prevent injury. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dog, reading, and watching her nephews play sports.

Read more health resources related to these topics:

Exerciseexercisephysical activity during the dayways to exercise


  1. Bethany Birchridge

    I thought it was cool that exercise increase the amount of endorphins released, making you feel better. My friend has terrible anxiety, but doesn’t want to work out because she’ll feel judged. Do you have any tips for finding a great fitness center where she’d be comfortable?

  2. Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP

    Thank you for reading Bethany. I know many people may fear larger gyms due to feelings of being judged. There are still many options including starting with home workouts, finding a workout partner to go with to the gym, or searching for local, smaller gyms which may not be as full as larger gyms. The important thing to remember is that getting started can be one of the hardest parts- find something you enjoy doing and hopefully the fun will help calm the anxiety.

  3. Allana Williams

    One of the keys towards happiness is exercise. It helps release happy hormones, uplifting the mood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *