It is increasingly obvious that our obsession with well-being – and in particular, happiness – is making us unwell. On average, we never had it so good (in terms of life expectancy, personal safety, income per capita, etc.) and yet addiction, depression, anxiety and suicide rates are all up.
There is a scientific explanation: we produce too much dopamine – the “reward” neurotransmitter that leads us to want more instant gratification through alcohol, sugar or social media consumption – and not enough serotonin, the neurotransmitter for “contentment”, which dopamine drives down. On a more abstract level, we tend to confuse pleasure and happiness.
This bears a lesson for investors. In the coming years, consumption of antidotes to ever more rampant un-wellness will increase, favoring themes related to nature such as wellness/eco-resorts and the outdoor industry (now growing at double-digit rates). The desire to reconnect with nature, and more specifically to exercise outside, will grow even stronger as new evidence keeps piling up about the benefits of physical activity for mental well-being.
A new study conducted with mice shows that lifestyle choices such as physical exercise not only increase the number of neurons in the brain (the so-called neurogenesis phenomenon), but also improve neural communications. Compared to sedentary mice, those that exercise have neurons that are larger and dendrites that are longer (and more numerous). In short: brain cells produced by physical exercise are quantitatively and qualitatively different. Humans are not mice, but the likelihood that the positive neurological effects of exercise are similar is high.