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Why HIIT makes you happy

Posted by Joe Wicks in Fitness, Wellbeing

Fat loss is just one of the benefits of regular exercise, alongside helping to improve our mental health and overall happiness and wellbeing. I always say that if you're struggling to find the motivation to exercise, try thinking about how awesome you feel afterwards. In this post, freelance contributor Kieran Alger explores why HIIT can help make you feel happy.

By Kieran Alger

Let's be honest, lots of us start working out because we want to look better. And perhaps we feel that we’ll only be happy once we've achieved that perfect beach selfie. But we could be missing a key part of our fitness journey and another big reason why exercise can make us happy. 

According to behavioural scientist Paul Dolan, aka Professor Happy from the London School of Economics, the sense of purpose you experience as you exercise can help make you feel happy.

“If you are planning to lose weight, or whatever, to be happier, take the steps to start doing it now," says Paul, who is the author of Happiness By Design. “Quite apart from any future happiness from being thinner or fitter, you can feel a great big happy sense of purpose now.”

Kind of like the sense of anticipation you have before an amazing holiday, Paul's philosophy is that if you pay attention to your purpose in the present, you'll feel even happier when you achieve your fitness goals.

The short message: Start doing something now and you're on your way to happy town. That's where HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) comes in. HIIT falls firmly into the category of ‘something I can do right now’, and is a fast way to slam-dunk your fitness goals and feel awesome at the same time. 

The benefits of HIIT beyond the calorie burn

HIIT workouts are amazing for burning fat and building lean muscle, and you only need 20 minutes to get it done. What's not to love? Oh, and the fact your HIITs will boost your metabolism so you burn extra calories long after your workout is done is a pretty good bonus too.

But wait, there's more. HIIT workouts are so intense that it can cut out the chatter and anxiety in your head. When you're smashing 40 seconds of burpees and focusing on catching your breath before another round of mountain climbers, you won't have the headspace to worry about a annoying email waiting in your inbox.

“A prescription of exercise can help you have a healthy mind," says GP Dr Paul Stillman, from Media Medics. “Exercise stimulates positive endorphins, clears your head and lifts your mood. I think we'll see more and more people prescribed exercise as a mood-booster.”

Why does HIIT make you happy?

Well, science shows that moving can help stimulate your happy hormones, including serotonin, which is why you can feel like a winner after a good workout. And there's not much that can trigger a flood of happiness faster than high intensity interval training. At least once you get into it.

Granted for the first 60 seconds you might feel like giving up. By the third minute, you'll probably swearing outloud. But after five minutes of movement, something awesome happens, the exercise stimulates serotonin in your brain, a chemical widely linked with wellbeing and happiness.

During an intense workout, you start to realise what your body is capable of. You start to feel strong, and you could even risk a smile. 

How long do you need to do HIIT?

“Lots of people hate exercise," says Paul, who admits he used to be one of the haters until he discovered the pleasure of weight training. If you're yet to be converted, consider this: “Even when I’m feeling completely unmotivated, I remind myself how much better, happier and more energised I feel after I workout”, says the Body Coach. "I believe everyone can learn to love exercise and how it makes you feel."


HIIT involves short, intense bursts of maximum effort, followed by a rest period. Try starting with 20 seconds of exercise, followed by 40 seconds of rest. It doesn't matter what your fitness level is right now, because your aim is basically to raise your heart rate to near maximum, before letting it recover with a nice rest.

Ultimately, the key is to find a workout you enjoy, because then you'll want to keep doing it. After exercise, take a moment to notice how your mood has lifted. The bright, calm satisfaction you get after your workout will keep you coming back for more. You'll get hooked on the feel-good benefits of exercise, not just the physical results.

Ready to have a go? Try this absolute beginners HIIT workout on The Body Coach TV.


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Joe Wicks

About Joe Wicks

Joe Wicks is the online nutrition coach inspiring people all over the world to cook with his #Leanin15 video meals on Instagram. He is also transforming the lives of thousands of people with his tailored online nutrition plan, The 90 Day Shift, Shape & Sustain plan.

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