“Yes”, a link does exist between exercise and happiness. Numerous studies have shown that exercise increases the body’s production of endorphins and antibodies ---both which tend to lead to feelings of happiness. And “yes”, exercise can activate the brain's pleasure circuit. And so, like nicotine, caffeine, food or gambling, it can become a substrate for addiction. So when does exercise become a virtue vs. a vice? And when does it cross the line from healthy to unhealthy? From trained to overtrained?
As avid cyclists we have all experienced an “endorphin high” -- that increase in stamina, that reduction in pain and that over all feeling of being able to accomplish most anything in any given moment (leap tall buildings in a single bound…). It is well known that exercise alters mood states and is considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and reducing stress. Studies also show that it is very effective for reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function.
However, it is also well documented that symptoms such as concentration and memory problems and cognitive complaints are common in individuals experiencing overtraining syndrome. When questioned, athletes were found to consistently report elevations in negative moods (tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion) and decreases in the positive mood of vigor during periods of rigorous training. More recently assessments indicate that mood state exhibits a predictable dose–response relationship with training; as training increases - so do negative mood states and feelings of vigor decrease.
Now you may be saying “I’m not an athlete - so I can’t be overtrained”! Well, Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) reflects the body’s attempts to cope with both physiological and other stressors. In fact several studies have revealed that OTS represents the sum of multiple life stressors, such as physical training, sleep loss, exposure to environmental stresses (e.g., exposure to heat, high humidity, cold, and high altitude), occupational pressures, change of residence, and interpersonal difficulties. Sound like your average nine to fiver who just wants to ride their bike? Well it turns out that managing “life”, “work” and “training” can push any recreational exerciser into overreaching and /or overtraining.
So for now to “be happy” - 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 3-5 days a week seems to be the most effective dose.
Tomorrow watch for more on preventing, diagnosing and treating OTS.