Crawley Physiotherapy Clinic
Visit our Location
4 Stable Park, Effingham Road,
Copthorne, Crawley, RH10 3HY
Opening Hours
Mon - Saturday: 8.30AM - 6PM
exercise and happiness

Exercise and Happiness: An Under-Discussed Secret

The link between exercise and happiness is already well established, but the importance of this link is not.

For those interested in understanding what contributes to a joyful life, I would argue an absolute imperative is regular exercise as the scientific literature seems comprehensive in its findings.

Often, we discuss philosophical principles, habits of thinking, and daily practices that happy individuals consistently engage in to lean towards more long-term joy. Eons of religious and spiritual traditions have discussed the psychology of an awakened or ‘realised’ individual, none of which have pointed to this secret.

The secret of exercise.

At our physiotherapy clinic in Crawley, we advise everyone on the importance of regular exercise.

Why? A perfect example: the other day we had an elder gentleman come into our clinic to pick a client up, we struck up a conversation and I couldn’t help notice how sharp he was in his conversation, his memory was crystal clear, his mobility appeared perfect.

He told me he’s never once had an issue with lower back pain, an issue that affects most people in the world.

“How did you manage that?!” I splurged out accidentally. His response shouldn’t have surprised me:

“I’ve always kept active”.

An ex-army member, aged now at 75 committing to 30-45 minutes of yoga every single morning, I thought, there’s something to be taken away here.

Of course, we cannot directly implicate correlation to causation in this particular case, but this gentleman’s story reflects wonderfully what science is now telling us in spades.

It made me think, often we know exercise is importance to maintain general good health, but the real benefits can also be found in its accumulative impact, when we reach our later years – arguably when it’s also more important to maintain mobility than ever.

Exercise and Happiness: An Evolutionary Take

We know that exercise stimulates hormones in the brain related to pleasure and happiness, and we can discuss this more later in this article.

That being known, however, it’s only natural to then wonder, why?

Why is it our brains would reward us emotionally for exercise?

I propose that the need for exercise is ingrained in our body and brains’ evolution as homosapiens.

Studies from the University of Arizona have recently discussed the notion that about 2 million years ago, as our species had new requirements that they had to adapt to, known as the ‘hunter-gatherer’ era, that physical exercise was a requirement for survival. As a result, we engaged in activities that were mentally stimulating as well as physically demanding, resulting in a required link between brain and body.

In addition, Dr Daniel E. Liberman discusses how previous populations of the paleolithic era had steady and only mild changes in cases of infectious disease as well as chronic diseases, however as we began to enter the farming and industrial era, these rates drastically increased.

His fascinating presentation on this topic can be viewed here:

At 11 minutes into the video you will see the chart showing a spike in disease rates with the new eras – and one thing that went along with both these eras was a significant decrease in physical activity.

His paper, as showed above, sums up his thoughts on the topic:

“Many lines of evidence indicate that humans evolved to be adapted for regular, moderate amounts of endurance physical activity into late age. However, because energy from food was limited, humans also were selected to avoid unnecessary exertion, and most anatomical and physiological systems evolved to require stimuli from physical activity to adjust capacity to demand. Consequently, selection never operated to cope with the long-term effects of chronic inactivity.”

How Exercises Increases Happiness

We have discussed how exercise may have been an evolutionary adaptation we had millions of years ago due to our new environment demanding more from us, resulting in us engaging in complex activities that were mentally and physically demanding.

It could be suggested therefore that this resulted in our brains perceiving pleasure from physical activity, as we hunted and gathered our food and needs using moderate to high physical exertion to maintain our own existence.

Following this, we can now appreciate that exercise is not simply a ‘hack’ to make us feel better on a bad day, but instead a lifestyle choice we need to return to for a radiant life.

Then the next question to ask is, how exactly does exercise result in more feelings of happiness and pleasure.

1. It release endorphins, serotonin and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

Endorphins are released when the body comes under physical stress. Research has found these hormones bind to opioid receptors in the brain, meaning they act in the same way morphine does, and thus acts as a potent natural painkiller.

Serotonin, sufficiently summed up by Medical News Today:

‘…is thought to be especially active in constricting smooth muscles, transmitting impulses between nerve cells, regulating cyclic body processes and contributing to wellbeing and happiness”.

BDNF is a protein released during exercise and it has an important (evolutionary) function which Buffer explains in detail:

If you start exercising, your brain recognizes this as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and also reparative element to your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising and eventually happy”.

2.  It reduces cortisol and adrenaline

These are stress hormones and in high quantities are negative for the body. Harvard found that aerobic exercise especially will decrease levels of cortisol and adrenaline, resulting in less stress.

3. It improves your self-esteem

People inherently know that exercise is good for us and we should do it regularly. For those who feel the pull to run, jog, play games, sports or other activities know how good it makes them feel after the training session is finished.

Research has found that regular exercise results in an increase in self-esteem in women, which in turn results in a plethora of other benefits in our mood and behaviour.

PsyCentral also reported a study which found an increase in self-esteem in overweight kids from exercise.

It’s not harmful also knowing that exercise also has a positive impact on:

  • Working memory
  • Concentration
  • Ageing
  • Cognitive decline
  • Overall mental health
  • Coordination
  • Strength
  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Help control addiction
  • Productivity
  • Pain tolerance

Recommendations for General Exercise

Often, the word ‘exercise’ is mistaken to mean heavily intensive activities that result in you feeling like you can’t walk by the end of it.

Truthfully, exercise is: “Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness”.

With this definition, there are an infinity of activities that you could do to start exercises.

The key principles, however, of effective exercise, are:  

 1. Exercise regularly

Most government recommendations advised 3-5 days per week of 30-60 minutes. This is a great start if this is what your schedule can only afford.

But historically, we would be walking, jogging, running, hunting and gathering, most of the day, every day.

Don’t be scared to engage in light-moderate exercise for over an hour every day of the week. You’ll benefit from it.

Intensity weight training would benefit from restriction, as too much can lead to injury and long term muscle or joint damage.

But light to moderate exercise is less risky and therefore you can be open in your approach to how much you engage in.

2. Exercise outdoors

Exercising outdoors has been shown to have positive benefits against exercise indoors:

3. Do something fun

Seeing as exercise is anything that involves physical activity, be sure to not think you have to run or go for long walks (unless you enjoy this, then by all means go ahead!).

It also means, sports, games, housework, gardening.

Think about what you enjoyed playing as a kid or at college/university.

Are there any local clubs you can join that you can engage in weekly? This will also give you a timetable to work with, so you know you’ll be exercising regularly.

To supplement this you could then think about what lifestyle habits you could change to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. For example, could you walk instead of driving to work? Could you use the elevator instead of stairs?

If you travel a lot abroad, simply walking around the airport instead of using all the escalators around the airport can help you get in that extra exercise.

Exercise should be fun, meaningful and purposeful and any manner in which you can squeeze it into your day to day life can add to long term happiness, wellbeing and health.

Yogi Patel
Yogi Patel
Started my Therapy due to a car accident which I suffered whip-lash would highly recommend for all your physio needs.
Emma Boakes
Emma Boakes
I visited Kulraj after being involved in a car accident. He is very knowledgeable and has helped me with my back and hip.
Jackie Picton
Jackie Picton
I visited Kulraj regarding a problem with my knee. Kulraj is very knowledgeable and compassionate. He is extremely good at listening and also at understanding the problem. He gave me a good set of exercises to do at the end of each session which, together with the hands on treatment, have helped considerably. I would not hesitate to recommend him.
Clare Grant
Clare Grant
Friendly, professional service.Following a RTA Kulraj really helped with my neck and back pain. After a few sessions I could really feel the difference and the terrible headaches I was suffering as a result really improved.Together with treatment in clinic and exercises to follow at home I saw a huge improvement.Would highly recommend.
jason watts
jason watts
Excellent advice and treatment, highly recommended. Kulraj was very flexible with appointments and resolved my issue within three weeks.
peter king
peter king
I visited Kulraj at Crawley Osteopath after my son who also attends there suggested he might be able to help with my back pain. After a free consultation to understand what I had done Kulraj was able to get me up & running again after only a couple of treatments. I find Kulraj’s approach is very professional and he makes you feel very relaxed. The method of treatment he gave me was different from other osteopaths I have been to. The set of exercises he gave me helped me feel much better in only a short time. I have no hesitation in recommending Kulraj.
Chloe Adamou
Chloe Adamou
Kulraj has been brilliant with my wrist injury. Very knowledgable and passionate about his work.
Shaz Cannonz
Shaz Cannonz
Was looking for a local physio to deal with knee issues and pain. Kulraj was incredibly thorough in his assessment. His approach was a little different to other physios I’ve worked with but I feel like his method was far more effective and got me back to better movement & pain free much faster. He’s also been addressing my hip/knee alignment issues which has had flow on benefits for my back and hips. On top of that really lovely to work with. Highly recommended.
Ed Stimpson
Ed Stimpson
Very pleased with the treatment I receive from Crawley Physiotherapy Clinic. Kulraj is very knowledgeable and has provided me with an effective rehab plan.
Kim Dean
Kim Dean
Kulraj was very helpful, kind and knowledgeable when I tore my calf muscle and followed up by sending me some exercises to help in the future, thank you
Mike Kerezins
Mike Kerezins
Was a bit sceptical of trying physiotherapy, however, after the spasm in my trapezius that I’ve managed to do at the gym, I started to look for one. I was recommended to visit Kulraj. After only 2 sessions the issue is almost gone (possibly would be gone gone if I would be more consistent with the suggested exercises)Very friendly, and straight to the point. I sure know where to call next time if I happen to have an issue. Thanks!
Robert McIntosh
Robert McIntosh
Tavistock is a excellent place for physiotherapy, kulraj sorted my many different football injurys, would definitely recommend.
Lewis best
Lewis best
I had an ongoing gym related back injury, Kulraj had it rehabbed in under 3 weeks. Excellent service.
Adrienne Kettlewell
Adrienne Kettlewell
Highly recommend. Kulraj is very knowledgeable, professional and compassionate. He took his time understanding and listening to my issues. I have been suffering long term with lower back issues, not being able to exercise, sit or even lie down comfortably and within x3 sessions he managed to eliminate the pain I was suffering. He also showed me different ways to stretch my back which are now a part of my daily routine. Everything was explained in detail. Lovely, clean working environment.
Doug Bown
Doug Bown
Great physio getting my hamstring sorted out, and very helpful with any questions i have asked about other injuries iv experienced to
Steven Critchley
Steven Critchley
Highly recommend... he has helped me with my hamstring and joints... easy to talk and felt really comfortable and knows exactly what he is talking about ...can't praise him enough
Simon Button
Simon Button
I visited the Tavistock Clinic after an issue with my shoulder.Kulraj was excellent, he spent time discussing the problem and after only two sessions completely sorted out the issue.I have since been back to see Kulraj, who has helped me greatly with advice & further physio, aimed at preventing any issues returning.With his expertise & professionalism I couldn’t recommend him highly enough.
Oliver Goldfinch
Oliver Goldfinch
Very happy I came here as Kulraj has been excellent throughout my recovery after a serious fracture. Definitely recommend.
lynne trussell
lynne trussell
Having had tennis elbow for several weeks I went to Tavistock Clinic and even after one treatment I started to get better. Would thoroughly recommend.
Jim Norman
Jim Norman
Went to see Kulraj with bad back. Very professionally resolved problem. Would thoroughly recommend.
catalin simion
catalin simion
I have been experiencing very bad knee pain and after I went for a few sessions of physio I felt a huge improvment. Kulraj he is a truly proffesional and a very welcoming person.I would strongly recommend Tavistock Clinic.
Kai Everington
Kai Everington
Couldn’t have asked for a better physio experience. I went in with a knee injury, and Kulraj listened and put me at ease at once. Since then, the sessions and home exercises have returned me to fitness really quickly. Perfect.
Warren King
Warren King
After having an ongoing shoulder issue which I had for over a year, I decided to visit the Tavistock Clinic due to the very good reviews.I was not disappointed. Kulraj was quick to root cause my problem, with physio at the clinic and at home exercises; I was back being 100% in a short space of time.The treatment I received was excellent, Kulraj is very professional, friendly and by far the best physiotherapist I've seen. I wouldn't hesitate going back if needed.
Rianna Davies
Rianna Davies
I went to the Tavistock Clinic after having upper back and neck pain. Kulraj was really helpful and gave me exercises to compete at home as well as hands on treatment. This has really helped ease the pain and is a massive improvement since I first came to the clinic. Kulraj is really friendly and I would recommend him to anyone considering physio.
Robin Moss
Robin Moss
I had an excellent experience st the Tavistock Clinic, I enquired online and recieved an immediate response and an invite to a free diagnostic session. A program of physio and home exercises was prescribed which really helped with the pain from a sports injury. Kulraj was very friendly and helpful throughout and I will definitely be going back if anything else happens (hopefully not though)