Happiness in Retirement — Why Exercise increases happiness

One of the easiest ways to increase happiness in retirement is to start exercising and to do some form of exercise every day.

Many postworksavvy readers already make regular exercise part of their daily  retirement regime.

They started exercising for weight loss, improved general health or greater body flexibility.  Their doctors urged them to undertake a moderate exercise program because of its positive effects when dealing with cancer, stroke, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

They kept exercising because it made them feel happier.

Exercise makes you happy - photo courtesy of Flick'gAbilityk
Exercise makes you happy – photo courtesy of Flick’gAbility

Aside from improved mobility and a fit, trim body, general happiness improved.

I can attest to these changes.  Although I deluded myself with the idea that I exercised regularly during career years, I was often too busy to get to the gym or too tired to go for a run or a walk after working a 12 hour day.  After retirement and an unexpected hip replacement, I decided that I would take better care of myself with some type of movement every day.

Beginning wasn’t easy as I was also rehabilitating my body from surgery and from chronic tendon problems in the ankle of my non-operated leg — the leg that had compensated while I waited for hip surgery.

I persisted.

I tried various forms of exercise.  Tai Chi had always interested me but when I started classes, the movements caused too much pain in my ankle.  Most of the machines at the gym bored me despite the TV monitors mounted on the stationery bikes, the treadmills and elliptical gliders.

Intuitively, I knew that winter sports that I had previously enjoyed — such as cross-country skiing and ice-skating — would potentially result in a fall and, at worst, a hip reset.  I put these activities into history; likewise road biking and running as these forms of exercise were too intense for me.

I discovered that my gym had a beautiful salt water pool. This discovery led to  swimming lessons for breath control and instruction to improve strokes.  I also discovered aqua fit classes that had no impact on my joints yet improved cardiovascular capacity, muscle tone and balance.

I continued to practise yoga adjusting poses according to what my body could do comfortably.

I persisted with re-gaining my ability to walk for pleasure and for exercise.  For months, a slow walk of two or three blocks caused pain and I would limp home in frustration to ice a swollen ankle joint.  At times, I abandoned walking unless I was in the supermarket and could lean on a shopping cart for support.

Gradually I increased the distance I walked with the goal of walking through airports so that I could travel again. After a couple of successful airport conquests I decided to try short walks for pleasure. I can now walk 3 or 4 kilometers at a good pace.  If I get a swollen ankle, I switch to yoga or something less intense for a couple of days.

Exercise changed from a grinding obligation to a fun activity. It created a feeling of accomplishment, It improved mood.  It increased motivation for other activities.

I’ve found now that my body craves movement.  I need the jolt of euphoria that comes from exercise.

What happened to cause this change?

Euphoria from movement

Scientists tell us that exercise causes the brain to produce endorphins.  Endorphins are ‘feel-good’ drugs your body makes for you.

Wikipedia explains that the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus produce endorphins when exercising.  Endorphins resemble opiates in their ability to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

Wikipedia also refers to endorphins as “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body”.

One blogger calls endorphins the ‘big daddies’ of happiness chemicals.

Maybe that’s why it’s hard to abandon an exercise routine. Even short bursts of activity — as little as 20 minutes per day — can create some level of movement euphoria.

How about that?  Free drugs your body makes as it thanks you for moving it! And there are no harmful side effects but many benefits!

Why keep moving?

Some of the benefits of exercise that I’ve experienced and that improve my happiness in retirement include:

  • improved self-esteem and body image – pride in what my body can do — especially walking again 
  • more stamina and higher levels of energy – getting through the day without napping
  • better sleep – fewer night wake-ups and a feeling of full rest in the morning
  • weight management without a diet – clothes fit better but I’m still waiting for skinny arms
  • lower blood pressure – medication dosage cut by 50% eight months ago

I’m told that regular exercise also strengthens the heart, normalizes blood sugar, balances hormone levels and boosts the immune system.  Some claim that regular exercise slows the aging process. Others say that brain power increases!

I you exercise regularly you have your own stories of how exercise has improved your retirement happiness and your health.

If you don’t exercise regularly, it’s never too late to begin some type of movement that is right for your age and your current state of health.

Regardless of age a regular exercise program will help you improve body image, strength, flexibility, and weight management — and it will increase your happiness as those endorphins charge through your brain and your body.



4 Replies to “Happiness in Retirement — Why Exercise increases happiness”

  1. If that still seems intimidating, don’t despair. Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to do some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days. As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.

    1. I agree, on some days exercising for 10 or 15 minutes is an accomplishment. The key is consistency — moving your body every day and doing an exercise that is enjoyable.
      Be well, Jeanette

  2. Thanks so much Jeanette, I am currently going through an ‘exercise adjustment’ …….. (yet another adjustment – but of course better than the alternative!). A few new aches and pains have presented of late. Previously I was able to walk up hills without concern but knees and feet are starting to ‘complain’ – and like you did – I am exploring ‘acceptable’ – (to me) alternative exercise options. It was great to read how you have ‘fought through’ and I intend to do the same. The biggest challenge is to find a ‘routine’ that ‘ticks all the boxes’ both for appeal and effectiveness. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. Hi Janet,
      I love the term ‘exercise adjustment’. It’s frightening to experience the challenges of an aging body and to cope with new aches and pains. I’m having fun at the cottage doing my 5 km beach walk in my bikini but with runners and orthotics to protect my joints! I’m sure this is not material for a fashion shoot but I’m grateful that I can do a beach walk. This is the first summer, since 2010, that I am strong enough.
      I wish you well in finding exercise options that meet your needs and protect those precious knees and feet. After all, they are the only ones you’ll ever have!
      Be well,

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