Get Moving! Why Exercise Reduces Depression And Boosts Happiness

Nov 02, 2023
Exercise and Mental Health, Benefits of Exercise for Depression, Exercise for Anxiety

Get Moving! Why Exercise Reduces Depression And Boosts Happiness

The New Year is traditionally a time when many people set lofty resolutions for losing weight and getting healthy, only to fall back on regular habits by February. However, rethinking why we exercise might increase the likelihood of following through on your goals.  

There are a few major theories on why exercise can boost your mood, from the chemicals in your brain that provide relief from anxiety and depression to the self-esteem boost provided by accomplishing difficult feats. These theories combined can provide us a clearer picture of what might be going on in the body when we engage in physical activities.

Let’s look more in-depth at some possible causes for the mental health benefits of exercise.

Exercise Produces a Tranquilizer Effect

Exercise increases the core body temperature, stimulating the brain stem and leading to a relaxation of muscle tension, which reduces anxiety in the body.

This is what is known as the thermogenic effect of exercise, a theory explored in a study that describes this mechanism as having a “tranquilizer effect” on participants.

Remember this every time you feel stressed and decide to “sweat it out.”

“Exercise Gives You Endorphins; Endorphins Make You Happy”

We’ve all heard the classic line from Legally Blonde, but what is actually going on?

Endorphins, chemicals released to improve pain and stress after exercise, are also said to increase happiness and well-being in those who regularly engage in exercise.

You may have your endorphins to thank the next time you start to feel that runner’s high.

Exercise Increases Neurotransmitter Receptors in the Brain Reduced by Depression

The most supported evidence for exercise’s effect on mood is through increasing neurotransmitter receptors in the brain.

It is said that those with depression have reduced neurotransmitter receptors. Exercise, in turn, can stimulate those receptors through the production of the feel-good chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Exercise Provides Distraction from Worrying Thoughts

There are also more practical reasons why exercise might increase mood.

To put it simply, exercise can act as a distraction. It can be hard to think of anything else when you are struggling through the home stretch of a cycling class or pushing through your final few reps in the weight room.

Even a simple walk outside can provide a change of scenery that can stop harmful thought patterns in their tracks.

Exercise Increases Self-Efficacy 

Lastly, physical exercise can increase your feelings of self-efficacy by increasing your confidence.

There’s nothing quite like accomplishing something you’ve ever done before to lift your spirits. That self-belief can trickle down into other parts of your life.

Feeling like you don’t have the skills to do have hard conversations with loved ones? Accomplishing difficult physical feats can make those hard things seem more possible in comparison.


While the official cause of exercise’s effect on mood is not known, there is more than enough evidence to justify adding exercise to your daily routine.

From long walks, to lifting weights, to a full body HIIT workout--anything to get your body moving is a step in the right direction toward increasing your happiness in the New Year, regardless of how many calories you burn.


For more strategies for increasing mindfulness and reducing depression in the New Year, be sure to check out Happy Apple Owner Maggie Vaughan’s upcoming book, available on February 1st.