My legs are heavy. My heart is working overtime. And sweat is pouring off my forehead with no time in between drips.
I’m huffing and puffing and my body is screaming for me to stop.
It’s the middle of the summer and the temperature is nearing 95 degrees. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the sun is relentless.
With just one mile left of this brutal 10-mile run, I am nearly out of energy.
One step at a time, I slowly ‘gut’ out the remaining mile. When I finally get back to my house, a huge wave of relief washes over me. I feel happy and a complete sense of calm.
It’s tough to put my finger on it, but I just feel good. I feel extremely happy, and to be honest, I feel near euphoric.
Sound familiar? I’m going to guess you too feel this way after working out. Science tells us there’s a good reason for this.
According to the Mayo Clinic, physical exercise increases the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters known as endorphins. These neurotransmitters act as a natural “drug” that can make a person more awake, energetic, and happier.
Knowing this, it makes sense that we feel near euphoric after a run.
A good workout is a perfect “pill cocktail” for a brief “happiness high.”
However, what science fails to address is the mental aspect of why exercise feels so good.
As many of us know, most of the benefit of exercise comes after the workout is complete. The fun part is the feeling we get when we finish. But the workout itself is anything but fun.
To achieve the desired “happiness high,” we first have to suffer through the actual workout, which, 9 times out of 10, is not fun. In fact, it usually sucks.
But it’s this ‘suck factor’ that’s incredibly powerful and completely overlooked by modern science.
Accomplished ultra-endurance runner and triathlete, Rich Roll, equates a tough workout to ‘mental pushups’ for the soul…
“Every time we accomplish something we didn’t think we could, that’s like mental push-ups for the soul. You’ve then had that experience and your perception of your new normal shifts.” — Rich Roll
This is the real power behind a tough workout and why it makes us feel so good:
Doing something that you didn’t think you could do feels good. And overcoming the constant adversity as your body begs you to stop, well that feels even better.
Sure, I don’t doubt that the endorphins are playing a part in why I feel so good after a run. But more important to me, when I finish a brutal 10 mile run in 95-degree heat, I’m proud of myself for pushing through the pain, adversity, and incessant nagging of my body wanting to quit.
So yes, exercise does make you happier.
Whether it’s from the increased production of endorphins in the brain, or from the sense of accomplishment of doing something difficult, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that exercise does indeed make you happier.
This article originally appeared in Medium.