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Why Exercise Makes Us Feel Good

July 14, 2011

Did anyone else see this article in the New York Times a few weeks ago? It didn’t really highlight anything super groundbreaking, just the facts that doctors have been shouting for years: exercise makes us happy and calm. They note that all exercise (with an emphasis on strength training) has the ability to make people feel less anxious and irritable and, best of all, that it may not require much physical activity to reap the emotional benefits.

The research, from the National Institute of Mental Health, pointed out that the mice that were used in the experiment “ran only when and for as long as they wished, over the course of several weeks. Other animal experiments have intimated that too much exercise could contribute to anxiety. Moderate levels of exercise seem to provide the most stress-relieving benefits.”


I love reading articles like this because they just reinforce what I have personally discovered over the past five years:

  • Exercise (any exercise) relieves my stress, both physical and mental.
  • Strength training makes me feel powerful, strong, and capable of kicking ass.
  • I don’t need to exercise for obscene amounts of time each week (or each day) in order to reap the benefits. Sometimes a fifteen or twenty minute walk in my neighborhood is all I need to feel less anxious and more focused.
  • When I used to exercise for obscene amounts of time each day (around the peak of my weight loss), I was exhausted, not energized.

This is why, when people tell me I’m crazy for making exercise such a priority (and they do), I point them to articles and research like this one. Of course I exercise to maintain my weight loss and my health, but I also work out to maintain my mental health as well. Studies like these show the benefits I feel after a run aren’t just in my head (yup, pun intended).

If you exercise, what’s the main reason you work out: physical appearance, physical health, or mental health?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 2:40 pm

    Exercise is just such a wonderful release for me. Whether or not I look good after doing it, I couldn’t live without the mental benefits! Loved this post 🙂

    • July 14, 2011 4:20 pm

      Glad you liked it, Cait. I feel the same way. On a good day, I feel even better after a run. After a bad day, I feel like my day is redeemed. It’s a win-win!

      • July 14, 2011 5:36 pm

        It’s funny because I truly enjoy exercising, but I find that if I get stressed it is the first thing to go. I don’t know why I do that, seeing as I like to exercise for stress release and to LOSE weight!! 🙂 I have definitely seen the mental benefits more recently than I ever realized before. 🙂

      • July 14, 2011 8:48 pm

        Yeah, it’s something I try to never compromise on, at least not if I don’t have to. I know that a good workout will not only make me feel more confident, it will make me feel more SANE!

  2. July 15, 2011 9:51 pm

    You’re gonna love this. So a girl who is studying feminist theory in one of my classes said she’d read:

    “Strong is the new skinny.”


    We were discussing female muscle definition on book covers and Katniss from Hunger Games. But the idea of strong muscular women instead of anorexic twigs makes me really happy.

    • July 16, 2011 8:26 am

      You’re right, I do love that, and it makes me happy that people are finally realizing it’s the message we should be selling to these girls. It’s healthier and more easily attainable—win-win!

  3. Nick permalink
    July 24, 2011 3:07 pm

    you exercise enough for the both of us 😉


  1. livingsublimewellness

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