Why do some physical activities make us happy? Ongoing research at the University of Arizona suggests our brains are wired to enjoy specific behaviors that helped our ancestors survive as hunters and gatherers.
When we exercise, our bodies produce neurochemicals that demonstrably improve our outlook. This is no accident. Evolutionary processes probably linked neurobiological “rewards” with exercise to boost activity levels in early humans during their search for water, food and shelter.
This same observation explains why other popular but less physical activities such as tourism or even just watching travelogues might also make us feel good. And it provides a window into how we can alter our moods through actions.
Clues like these from evolutionary history and lab investigations are revealing powerful interconnections between human brains and bodies. Detailed knowledge of these interconnections can drive development of novel and healthful methods to improve our individual happiness today.
On Wednesday (Feb. 26), UA Professor David Raichlen will discuss how exercise influences happiness. His presentation will be similar to one he delivered during the “Happiness Lecture Series” Wednesday evenings at the Fox Theater last October and November.
With funding from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner Gren Foundation and the Leakey Foundation, Raichlen has explored how and why exercise and physical activity improves health and how the mismatch between modern lifestyles and our evolutionary history impacts our well-being today.
Raichlen received his bachelor’s degree in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy at Duke and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Texas-Austin in 2004. His research focuses on the evolution of human and nonhuman primate locomotion, evolutionary physiology and the evolution of the human brain.
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