Moving Towards Happiness
People are always searching for happiness, filling their lives with people and possessions and activities which they believe will allow them to be truly satisfied. Sometime this is a never-ending journey which people fail to complete. But for the most of us, it is possible to create a contented lifestyle and live a happy day-to-day existence. This article is about one simple way in which we can all boost our happiness levels: exercise.
There are many reasons why moving your body is the best, healthiest way to improve your happiness. Firstly, exercise releases endorphins; chemicals which quite simply make us feel better. It also reduces the amount of cortisol and adrenaline which are hormones responsible for stress. Regular exercise has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression. And while many of these feelings and emotions come from the chemicals in our brain which are released when we exercise, humans also feel an innate sense of accomplishment when they have set themselves a target (say, exercising three times a week) and meet it. We are satisfied and happy not only as a result of the hormones released during exercise but also by the mere knowledge that we’ve done what we said we would and met our own goal. If you’re training for something such as a marathon, the milestones along the way will also give a happiness boost as you hit them.
There is a lot of complex science behind exercise and happiness but I want to briefly go over the impact of endorphins on our brains as well as how exercising makes our bodies healthier. Endorphins are chemicals which pass between our neurons, carrying messages. Not only are they important for our overall brain function, they also make us feel great! Within our brain, the endorphins lock into opioid receptors which give us a real buzz of happiness. They can be triggered by the enjoyment of a great meal, being around friends, sex and exercise, amongst other activities. Endorphins are also our body’s natural painkiller and our brain releases them when we hurt ourselves. In order to produce them as a result of exercise, however, we need to be working out relatively hard. Anaerobic exercise triggers the release of endorphins when the body doesn’t have enough oxygen. Aerobic exercise will make you feel good but not as good as a more strenuous workout such as heavy weight-lifting or sprinting. Simply build these exercise types into your workout schedule to feel the benefits.
Our immune system is also boosted by exercising; another health benefit. The release of antibodies is usually stimulated by contracting a virus or bacteria in order for our body to fight the infection. However, we can actually increase the amount of antibodies we are producing in two simple ways: being happy and exercising. Of course this article implies the latter leads to the former but being a generally happy person can mean you have up to 50% more antibodies than someone who is unhappy. Exercise, on the other hand, can offer our bodies an incredible 300% boost in the number of antibodies. So it seems regular exercise makes you 350% healthier when it comes to fighting off illnesses, meaning you get sick less often and recover more quickly.
It doesn’t even matter what type of exercise we do, either. It is common for people who are seeking to improve their happiness or lose weight to begin running or cycling or another form of cardio training. However, other forms of exercise can be just as beneficial. Weight and strength training, for example, has been linked not only to lower depression and anxiety levels but also boosting our self-esteem levels at the same time. Meditative exercises such as yoga are excellent at reducing stress and, when done correctly, are great workouts at the same time. However, studies have shown exercise which is conducted outside makes us feel more revitalised than pounding a treadmill in the gym. As someone who hates exercising inside, I completely understand this. Depending on where you live, there are many ways in which you can convert inside workouts to outside ones, including cycling to work, joining a park Pilates class and swimming in the sea when the weather permits.
Here are a few more interesting facts about exercising and happiness:
· Music helps boost the ‘fun’ levels of our workout and also our own effort by 15%
· Choosing our own workout, schedule and how hard we work means we’re more likely to commit
· You’re more likely to enjoy a sport if you believe you’re good at it
· You’re most likely to feel the desire to exercise when our emotions are ‘neutral’
· The emotional boost we actually get from exercising has its greatest effect on our happiness when we work out in a bad mood.
· Research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests the amount of exercise needed to make a positive effect on our mental health is 30 to 60 minutes every three to five days.
Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.