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Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

How Does Exercise Make Us Happier?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

ropesFor many years, physical exercise has been touted to be a cure for nearly any ailment, from depression to Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s and more.  What would you think if I told you it may even be possible to exercise to happiness?!  Physically active people recover from mild depression more quickly, and physical activity is strongly correlated with good mental health as people age ¹. You have probably heard this before, but in order to truly understand, I felt it was time to get specific and even a little scientific about how exercise affects our brains.

It’s fairly simple to recognize how exercise affects our bodies.  As we exercise, we build more muscle and/or stamina, two elements that are measurable and obvious.  Better fitting pants and heavier weights are clear indicators to understand how effective exercise is for a body.  But, recognizing the benefits of exercise to our brains is not as clear to identify.

What triggers happiness in our brains when we exercise? The short answer is based on the release of endorphins.  But what exactly does that mean?  First, a shallow dive into the science pool…

When we begin exercising, our brains recognize it as stress.  As the heart pressure increases, our brains think we are either fighting an enemy or fleeing from it, commonly identified as the fight-or-flight response.  To protect ourselves and our brains from stress, a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) is released.  BDNF is both protective and reparative to our memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. This is why after exercising, we often think more clearly and feel so at ease, even yes, happy.  This experience is by far my favorite part about working out.  That moment when the weight of the world has lifted off my shoulders and I know I can get through anything — even whatever crazy WOD Bo had programmed that day.  Endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, is also released in our brains at this time.  The endorphins’ job is to minimize the discomfort of exercise, blocking any sensations of pain that are even associated with a feeling of euphoria. Overall, during physical activity, our brains are considerably more active than when we are just sitting down or even concentrating mentally.

The important piece to understand is  how we can trigger these processes in an optimal and longer lasting way. Now this is where it all gets very interesting. A recent study from Penn State University found that the level of productivity and happiness on a given work day is based more on if you exercise regularly, and not just on that particular day.

“Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.”

To get the highest level of happiness and benefits for health, the key is not to become a professional athlete. On the contrary, a much smaller amount of daily exercise is needed to reach the level where happiness and productivity for every day life can peak. New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds has written a whole book about this subject matter, titled The First 20 Minutes. In the book she states, “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20-40 minutes of being active.”  So really, you can relax and don’t have to be on the look-out for the next killer work-out.  (Although I do love them.)  All you have to do is get focused and get moving to gain the full happiness boost every day!

“On exercise days, people’s moods significantly improved after exercising.  Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.” (University of Bristol)

As a quick last fact, exercise and the subsequent increase of the BDNF proteins in our brains act as a mood enhancer.  So, at the beginning of exercise, the feeling of euphoria is the highest. This means that if you have never exercised before, or not for a long time, your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now.

Exercise and happiness are 2 immensely important things to me.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions too.

Holiday Shopping (By Marisa Lee)

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Ok guys, so Marisa wrote this up for the blog post but I blew it, I didn’t see it in my e-mail and I should have posted it last night, but it was too good to pass up altogether even though it’s late, so here it is.  You procrastinators can still use it for the upcoming busy shopping days!:

Santa needs to get in shape, drop the Coca-cola, and be a better example of health and fitness overall, according to "Hlife" (http://hlifemedia.com/tag/exercise/page/3/)

Santa needs to get in shape, drop the Coca-cola, and be a better example of health and fitness overall, according to "Hlife" (http://hlifemedia.com/tag/exercise/page/3/)

(Link to the HLife article about Santa needing to get more exercise here: http://hlifemedia.com/tag/exercise/page/3/)

Happy post-Thanksgiving, CFMers. If you are braving the lines of Black Friday, we encourage you to make the most of your time and plan your workout around your shopping. Your place in line doesn’t have to be endangered by your commitment to fitness if you utilize your isometrics and plyometrics. Scaled pistols, squats, and calf raises are great for when your legs start to fall asleep around the 2nd hour of standing in line. Treasure laden shopping bags make great kettlebells. And who needs a weight vest when you have heavy winter apparel with pockets full of coupons and credit cards?

 

Remember to stay warm! Black Friday shoppers often forget that sprinting cold is both dangerous and inefficient. Getting warmed up 5 minutes before the doors open will give you an edge when the race to the best deals begin. I recommend burpees when you start to get chilly. 

 

Moving obstacles are some of the most challenging to navigate. Keep on your toes and your fellow shoppers will provide an excellent agility course. (Please note that vaulting rolling shopping carts is considered an advanced level parkour movement and should only be executed by expert practitioners.)

 

Finally, substitute a shopping cart for a great weight workout. 50 inch plasma TVs are tricky to snatch, but an overhead carry is certainly preferable to waiting around for store help.

 

 

Or if you are like me and prefer a quiet day with friends and family, you can stop by the gym for the Saturday morning CrossFit class to work off some of that delicious turkey dinner from Thursday night

“How much and how often should we exercise?” discussion

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Supposedly, according to the CrossFit protocol, we should engage invaried and intense workouts, that not olnly vary in modality, but also time domain.  But the question remains, exactly how often shouldwe exercise?  The CrossFit protocol encourages the 3 days on, one day off cycle, because this is supposed to maximize gains in strength and metabolic capacity.  Nevertheless, you will often hearCrossFit as well as other trainers encourage their athletes to take an additional break, maybe for about2 weeks straight, sometime during the year, in order to fully recover.  Here is the second in the “Paleo in a Nutshell” series that encourages us modeling our workout cycles according to the “Paleolithic lifestyle” of our ancestors.  (Or maybe just modern day hunter-gatherers!)  I’m not telling you to do the same as is suggested in the video.  What I want to do is instigate a discussion in regards to exactly how often we should exercise.  What is your workout/rest cycle?  What seems to work best for you?  Do you like to go all-out, 100% intesity for every single workout you ever do, or do you allow yourself to go medium-intensity sometimes?  Why?   Do you just do CrossFit, or intersperse it with other activities?  How do those activities, if any, affect or integrate with your workout cycle?  (For example, Darryl R. doesn’t always join us for the Saturday morning workout, at least not when it’s a paint-ball day!  Everybody has their priorities.)   Also, what have your results been like?  How often do you get injured or sick?   Have you ever gotten an injury that you may otherwise have avoided had you gotten more rest?   Post comments to discussion.