What Are the Four Happy Hormones?

Physical exercise is inherently linked to your mental health, which is why doing exercise can have a significant impact on your mood.

When you exercise, you produce a range of hormones that make you feel happy, including Serotonin, Dopamine, and Endorphins.

That’s why it’s so important to maintain your mental and physical health because, by neglecting one, the other suffers too.

So, next time you’re working out, here’s a little information on the hormones that are at work in the background.

How do happy hormones work?

1. Seratonin

The messenger between the gut and the brain is the chemical, serotonin, which is one of the hormones that make us feel happy.

When we do physical activity, we release serotonin, especially when we do aerobic exercise like swimming, biking, running and walking.

On top of making us feel happy, it also helps regulate bowel movements, stimulate libido and reduce anxiety.

Plus, it supports healthy sleeping patterns, aids recovery and boosts your energy levels.

Up to 95% of serotonin is produced in your gut, meaning that poor gut health can lead to a serotonin deficiency, making you feel less happy from day to day.

A lack of sufficient serotonin can increase your risk of depression and anxiety, so by exercising on a regular basis, you are more likely to feel calm and emotionally stable.

2. Dopamine

Dopamine is another hormone that’s produced when you do physical activity.

It’s produced during many different types of exercise, whether you’re on your morning run or practising meditation.

It plays a major role in improving your memory function, maintaining bodily movements, as well as producing feelings of pleasure, motivation and joy.

Dopamine is known for giving you the ‘drive’ that motivates you through the day.

It can also be released when you eat good food, win a game or have sex. It's linked to reward-motivated behaviour.

A lack of dopamine can mean that your sex drive diminishes, you feel less motivated, less focused and have trouble sleeping.

This important chemical keeps our bodies and minds stable, so it’s important you do everything you can to keep your dopamine levels balanced.

What's extremely interesting in regards to dopamine, is the research that Dr Andrew Huberman has been sharing. He highlights the importance of Intermittent Reward Timing, to ensure that our dopamine baseline and the dopamine that we experience from reaching milestones doesn't start to diminish over time, resulting in feeling less satisfaction from everything.

The key takeaway we learnt is to celebrate our wins, but not every win; and more importantly to associate the "winning" with the effort process itself.

3. Endorphins

Have you ever heard of a ‘runner's high’?

This is actually a real sensation caused by a rush of endorphins released through exercise.

When the body feels pain, endorphins are produced to block the nerve cells that receive the pain signals.

Endorphins help relieve pain, reduce stress and increase feelings of euphoria. As well as being produced during physical activity, they can also be released during sex, or when we laugh.

So, in effect, we can produce our own happiness by exercising. This explains why exercise is directly linked to reducing stress, anxiety and depression.

Doing exercise doesn’t have to mean running a marathon or breaking your body in the gym; it can be in any shape or form that feels right for you, whether that’s a morning walk, swim in the surf, HIIT workouts or something else entirely…

4. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is commonly referred to as the “love hormone”.

It will produce feelings of love, pleasure and closeness; Oxytocin can help you relax by reducing your blood pressure and cortisol levels. We produce oxytocin when we cuddle, when we hug someone, or even when we orgasm…

But you may be surprised to discover that we also produce oxytocin when we exercise. This proves to be another great hormone for relieving stress and anxiety, through exercise. So, if you crave that daily dose of love and pleasure, maybe you should get yourself to the gym?


So, in a nutshell, that’s how happy hormones work.

That’s why it’s so important to exercise, because it can have such a big impact on your mood.

If you struggle to make time for physical activity, you may find it useful to learn strategies for prioritising it.

If you’d like to read about the common mental and physical difficulties we face when trying to exercise, then read our blog here.

 

References

Mikkelsen, K. et al. (2017) “Exercise and mental health,” Maturitas, 106, pp. 48–56. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003.
Saino, N., & Møller, A. P. (1995). Testosterone-induced depression of male parental behavior in the barn swallow: female compensation and effects on seasonal fitness. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 36(3), 151-157.

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