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THE SCIENCE-BACKED WAY TO FEEL HAPPIER, SMARTER, WEALTHIER + MORE SUCCESSFUL

Will indoor cycling improve your intellect? Could squats make you more successful? Might weight training make you wealthy? Science suggests that when you choose to exercise, you can win at work, boost your brain power, shift stress and become altogether happier.

#1: WORK OUT AND BECOME HAPPIER

If you’re facing a tough day and want an immediate mood boost, add 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to your morning routine. Science highlights this as a favoured formula for instant mood enhancement – quickly sparking an endorphin high, while the positive effects can last up to 12 hours. A quick cardio session in the morning is shown to provide the same mood boost as caffeine. The bonus: exercise can reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue and a depressed mood.


According to scientists exploring how exercise eases negativity, it takes just four aerobic exercise sessions a week to reap significant psychological benefits, such as reduced depression and feelings of hostility. And the mood-enhancing benefits are long-lasting, they can still be in your system for weeks following your exercise!


It's not just cardio that sparks exercise-induced happiness. Another set of researchers evaluated 23 published studies and found that as little as 10 minutes of any physical exercise per week can result in increased levels of happiness. Those who accumulated at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days were 30 per cent more likely to report being ‘happy’ than those who didn’t get their fitness fix.


#2: WORK OUT AND FEEL WEALTHIER

Studies show there’s a link between the amount of time people exercise and the size of their salary. According to the Journal of Labour Research, employees who exercise regularly earn nine per cent higher than their more sedentary sidekicks. And regardless of their actual pay cheque, regular exercisers also just feel wealthier. A team of Yale and Oxford researchers collected data from 1.2 million Americans, analysing how often they experienced stress, depression, or emotional problems concerning their income and level of physical activity. They found that while a pay rise will make most people feel good, exercise can make them feel even better! Those who did exercise felt just as good as inactive individuals who earned $25,000 more a year. The scientists considered all forms of physical activity – everything from gardening and housework to weightlifting and running – but found the greatest mental health benefits come from team activities, cycling, and aerobic gym sessions.


Don’t forget there are other financial perks associated with exercise too; like lower healthcare costs and the ability to remain productive into old age.

Regular exercisers just feel wealthier… those who did exercise felt just as good as inactive individuals who earned $25,000 more a year!

#3: WORK OUT AND BOOST YOUR BRAIN POWER

If you're studying for an exam or simply want to increase your intellect, a good sweat session could be just the ticket. Studies show that exercise promotes academic achievement and can bolster your cognitive function, improve your memory, and lift your attention span. It will also enhance your executive function, which is your ability to think differently, adapt to new situations, and regulate emotions. The intellect-advancing benefits kick in because exercise alters the physical makeup of your brain. Aerobic exercise increases the amount of gray matter (the parts of the brain that contain the cell bodies of neurons), which lifts your brain’s processing capabilities.


And it happens pretty quickly. One study revealed how the brain-boosting benefits observed after just one workout can indicate the extent of long-term changes. Those who saw the biggest improvements in cognition and functional brain connectivity after single sessions of moderate-intensity physical activity also showed the biggest long-term gains.


While much of the research around physical fitness and brainpower has focused on slowing cognitive decline in older people, a new study of 20-somethings shows that if you’re young and fit, you’re also likely to have superior memory and thinking skills. Using special MRI brain scans, German scientists assessed the white matter (the parts of the brain that connect the cell bodies of neurons) inside 1,200 young people’s brains. They also carried out cognitive tests, medical check-ups, aerobic fitness tests, and health and lifestyle questionnaires. Those who were relatively out-of-shape had poorer memory and thinking skills, plus their white matter was weaker and more frayed than those with better fitness levels.

A study of 20-somethings shows that if you’re young and fit you’re also likely to have superior memory and thinking skills.

#4: WORK OUT AND BECOME MORE RESILIENT

Exercise – specifically yoga-based workouts such as BODYBALANCE® – can increase your mental resilience by improving heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats, and there is evidence that greater variation makes us more able to shift from being stressed to being relaxed – which means we’re better equipped to cope with the pressures of daily life. Studies show low HRV is correlated with anxiety and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Being physically fit increases your immunological fitness too – so you’re less likely to be out of action with sickness. Exercising increases blood flow and mobilises white blood cells –one of your body’s main defenses against harmful microbes. The antioxidants produced during exercise can help lessen the impacts of the disease. Experts recommend exercise as good medicine for countering everything from common colds to chronic illnesses such as cancer.


A huge 2013 comparison study of exercise and drug interventions found that being fit was as good – if not better – at combatting many chronic illnesses.


#5: WORK OUT AND SEND STRESS PACKING

A fascinating study (involving mice) has revealed that regular exercise can make it easier to bounce back from stressful situations. It all comes down to something called galanin, a peptide associated with mental health. People with genetically low levels of galanin face an uncommonly high risk of depression and anxiety disorders. Exercise leads to a surge in galanin production, and the more galanin, the greater the stress resilience.

Exercise leads to a surge in galanin production, and the more galanin, the greater the stress resilience. These findings are backed up by numerous other studies linking physical activity to reduced feelings of anxiety, improved quality of life, and better sleep.

There is also evidence that working out with others can amplify the benefits. A study from the Les Mills Lab found that people who do group workouts have less stress and greater physical, mental, and emotional quality of life compared to those who work out alone. We also know that working out with others increases individual enjoyment, exertion and satisfaction.


Thanks to Les Mills Asia Pacific one of our sponsors for this article.

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