This past weekend I took my friend's advice and watched the documentary Happy. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/11335940 w=500&h=281]

Happy - A Documentary Trailer from Wadi Rum Films on Vimeo.

The documentary explores human happiness and aspects of our lives that contribute to how happy we feel. It's worth watching. Although the film focused on various contributors to our happiness, I wanted to approach this blog post by highlighting the information I learned in relation to physical activity.

We know that our body adapts to what it needs to do. When a sedentary person starts an exercise regime, they find themselves winded or less able to complete a specific activity. As time goes on, their body adapts to the activity and so does their stamina. The brain works the same way.

The "use it or lose it" approach is definitely applicable to the various functions of the brain, including dopamine release. Dopamine plays a role in "reward-driven learning" (Wikipedia) i.e. you feel good after a rewarding action. The theory discussed in the film is that humans who seek out experiences that release dopamine, increase their happiness.

Apparently, aerobic exercise is one of the primary releasers of dopamine. GO FIGURE! Especially if you do it in novel ways. Activity like dance classes, martial arts, group exercise, 5K's for a cause or for fun, like mud runs and the Color Run are all great examples.

Ronaldo Fadul, a surfer from Brazil, was interviewed for the documentary. He feels that, “any kind of physical activity is important for the human being,” their soul and purpose. He’s surfed for 40 years and credits surfing to his vitality and youth. It connects him to life.

What he was describing is what many athletes call being "in the zone." Dr. Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont University, featured in the documentary, studied people who were doing something physically difficult and demanding for "no good reason" other than the fact that they wanted to and loved it. “The purpose” turned out to be none other than the feeling of calmness and happiness. He says that when people engage in difficult physical activity, they feel in control, forget their problems, forget themselves and most importantly, their ego disappears. Over time we build a feeling that life is worth living just like Ronaldo.

I take this to heart. Many times when we are feeling down, taking a walk, going to the gym, running, or jumping on a bike, is the last thing we want to do. We don't even want to see people, let alone engage in activity. However, it may just be the medicine that could help turn a really bad day into a not so bad or even a GREAT day.

Watch the doc, and share your takeaways in the comments section.