Exercise – the Way to Happiness
How often have you said, “I just want to be *happy*”? Perhaps you have been on the giving or receiving end of the phrase, “I just want _you_ to be *happy*.” You are not alone. It seems more people are in a perpetual pursuit of *happiness*.
Happiness* is an inherently subjective construct. Cultural differences, past experiences and individual expectations all play a role in our personal definitions of *happiness. Social scientists have been trying to quantify *happiness* for decades. While there is no universally agreed-upon definition, here is an idea that may resonate with you. *Happiness* is a construct that consists of two main components: positive emotions and life satisfaction. People who describe themselves as *happy* experience positive emotions such as love, joy and affection more often than negative emotions. Additionally, *happy* people feel high levels of satisfaction with how they are progressing toward their life goals.
Exercise to Cultivate More Positive Emotions
It is unrealistic to expect to feel positive emotions all the time. After all, experiencing negative emotions from time to time is part of being human, and we experience a full range of emotions as our circumstances and situations change. However, if we look at negative emotions through the lens of contentment, they can serve a purpose. We can use the information we gather from negative emotions to make decisions about our *health behaviors *and relationships, and to set realistic *personal goals*. While negative emotions can be useful, it is important not to give them too much free reign. Dwelling on negative emotions can flood your body with stress hormones, such as cortisol, that can lead to both *health* and behavioral consequences such as insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, overeating and alcohol misuse.
Somewhere between avoiding negative emotions and ruminating over them lies resilience, which is the ability to adapt and cope. And not only when life hands us the proverbial lemon, but with day-to-day stressors as well. *Exercise* is one *healthy habit* that can help us do that. *Exercise* reduces stress hormones in the body while simultaneously improving mood. Just 20 minutes of *moderate-intensity aerobic exercise* performed in the morning can have an immediate impact on mood. Moreover, the mood boosting effects of *exercise* can last for up to 12 hours. So, your morning *workout* will not only help you to start your day off feeling *happier*, it may help serve as a stress buffer if and when you encounter difficult situations throughout the day.
Here is some more good news: It appears that any type of *physical activity *can improve *happiness*. Researchers at the University of Michigan aggregated data from more than 23 published studies spanning more than three decades. Participants were diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The researchers found that *exercise* was consistently linked to *happiness*. This was true for walkers and joggers, and for those who practiced mind-body forms of *exercise* such as yoga. Those meeting the *physical activity* guidelines of accumulating at least 30 minutes of *physical activity* on most days of the week were 30% more likely to report feeling *happy* than those not meeting the guidelines, but researchers observed increased *happiness* scores among individuals who *worked out* as little as once or twice a week. Not only that, but *exercise *can create a *healthier body composition* helping a person feel better about themselves.
Exercise is Just One Piece of the Puzzle
While *exercise* seems to play a pivotal role in *happiness*, remember that this is simply one piece of the puzzle. People who self-identify as *happy *often report having *healthier* relationships with family and friends and higher levels of spiritual *wellness. So, in your pursuit of *happiness, remember to nurture your relationships and to set aside a little quiet time each day for contemplation and meditation. And, of course, keep moving.
For more information on *exercise and happiness*, contact *Maurie Cofman, CMES, CES, TBMM-CES, Personal Trainer, Certified Medical Exercise Specialist, Health Coach and Corrective Exercise Specialist in the St. Louis, Brentwood, and Clayton, MO area.*