Exercise Your Way to Happiness

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to ensure your own happiness. Almost everyone has heard of endorphins, the feel-good hormones that our bodies release after intense workouts. But is there a deeper link between exercise and happiness?

First, it’s important to understand that regular changes in our overall subjective experience of well-being are perfectly normal. Our bodies go through many different natural cycles that are related to the seasons, time of day, hormone production, and many other factors.

It is not important that you always feel happy. What is important is to cultivate habits and lifestyle changes that incline the body and mind toward states of well-being. Exercise is one of the most reliable ways to counteract restlessness, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and other negative emotional states.

However, before elaborating on the specific links exercise has to happiness, it may be helpful to first review the ordinary conditioned responses many people have to sub-optimal emotional states.

Familiar Ways of Dealing with Unhappiness

Some familiar ways of coping with unhappiness are to eat excessively, sleep, sit in front of the television, or increase intake of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. The problem with these solutions is that most of them, as coping mechanisms, have only short-term positive effects, and set the mind and body up for an [i]increase[/i] in overall unhappiness.

While the occasional comfort food or afternoon nap can be healing for the body, making a habit of these coping mechanisms leads to an overall decrease in well-being.

The Role of Exercise in Happiness

That’s where exercise comes in. As mentioned above, intensive biking, running, hiking, strength training, yoga, swimming, or any other type of exercise causes the production and release of hormones known as endorphins. Endorphins perform two basic functions in regard to our feelings. The first is that they inhibit pain. The second is that they induce a mild state of euphoria. That is because endorphins bind to opiate receptors in the brain.

Read more about endorphins here.

Exercise also leads to increased production of antibodies, proteins produced by the immune system that are used to fight off antigens, which are disease causing bacteria or viruses. This is significant in regards to happiness because there is a strong correlative and reciprocal relationship between happiness and the strength of the immune system. That is, happiness strengthens the immune system, and a strong immune system encourages happiness.

You can read more about the link between the immune system and happiness at the Scientific American.

Focus, Breath Control, and Tuning Out External Stimuli

Studies on the effects of meditation on happiness may provide clues as to why exercise makes us happier people. An article published by WebMD suggests three factors that meditation shares with exercise which may encourage the experience of happiness. These are focus, breath control, and the tuning out of external stimuli.

Much interest and research have gone into studying meditation’s effects on the brain, and the conclusions are undeniably positive. The areas of the brain associated with happiness light up dramatically after 20 minutes of meditation. After many years, these changes in the brain become permanent.

There’s more information about meditation over at WebMD.

Significantly, studies also suggest that around 20 minutes, cardiovascular exercise begins to have a positive effect on the body and mind. It’s clear that happiness is not just a hormonal or neurochemical byproduct, but also an extension of how we are using our subjectivity. The studies of meditation and the correlative subjective states of focus, breath control, and tuning out of external stimuli, suggest that these three factors may play a significant role in exercise’s effect on emotional moods.

Check out this study on the effect of exercise on depressed adults.

This suggests that exercise is just as effective as prescription medication in resolving depressive episodes.

The Mystery of Happiness

The long-term effects of exercise include overall improvement in health, energy levels, physical attractiveness, and many other factors that are obviously connected to happiness. However, since happiness is a subjective phenomenon, it’s a bit difficult to study. The point is that exercise encourages well-being. It may not necessarily be the ultimate solution to unhappiness, but it’s a healthier way to feel good than digging into a pint of ice cream.

This field of research is still full of interesting questions and propositions. No one is entirely sure of the full range of influences that lead to happiness. Some psychologically minded researchers suggest that exercise encourages happiness by diverting the mind away from negative thoughts.

Others suggest that the happiness produced by exercise is directly linked to the development of “mastery,” a word that is growing in popularity among sports psychologists, life coaches, and researchers from different academic fields. This may be particularly true when the exercise is competitive, team-based, or requires a high level of skill to perform.

Overall, the field is still open to much study and interpretation. Happiness must ultimately be found internally and in a holistic manner that spreads to all aspects of one’s life. Exercise is just one means of facilitating the process of attaining lasting happiness.

Benefits of Exercise – Is Lack of Exercise Making You Unhappy?

Most people know that they should exercise more. However, the hustle and bustle of daily life makes wanting to exercise the last thing a busy person wants to do.

However, evidence suggests that not exercising can make a person blue. Not only does regular exercise increase the feel-good chemicals in the human body, some types of exercise actually help to release the negative and stressful emotions that people accumulate during their daily lives.

As well, exercising in the right conditions can restore balance to the body and give it the necessary antioxidants, all of which make a person happier and healthier.

Elevate Your Mood

According to the Help Guide website, exercise helps people to change their mood. For people who are feeling blue, the best prescription might just be a walk around the block. When a person exercises, he releases feel good chemicals into his body.

These are called endorphins. As WebMD points out, these same chemicals produce a “runner’s high.” The person who feels unhappy may not be getting enough exercise.

Exercise as a Self-Esteem Booster

Often people tie feelings of body image to how they look in the mirror. People who don’t like the way their bodies look often feel unhappy, but Livestrong suggests that getting regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise can affect a person’s self-esteem levels. This makes sense in the context of the newly toned body the comes as a result of regular physical activity.

Physical Activity as a Source of Fun

No doubt, many people can recall being assigned push ups or a jog around the block as a form of punishment in gym class, but exercise doesn’t have to be punishing, nor should it be.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that people participate in activities like hiking or dancing to get their blood pumping and to increase the fun-factor in their lives. Other fun sports include horseback riding, swimming or flag football.

The light-hearted feeling that results from getting out and doing something fun alleviates feelings of unhappiness, which can come from taking life too seriously.

Feeling Grounded

Some exercise practices such as yoga assist in not only reducing stress levels — as do many other forms of exercise — but they also give the exerciser a sense of being grounded. Yoga moves the energy in the body, making it realign to a healthier state.

Additionally, the poses for such exercises open up the energy centers, releasing pent up emotions and stresses. This in turn lowers the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline in the blood. When these pent-up emotions get released, it’s easier to feel happy and at ease once again.

Where You Exercise is Important

No doubt about it, exercising in a natural setting can do wonders for a person’s happiness level. According to an article on the Dr. Mercola’s website, spending time in the natural world directly affects a person’s mood.

The trees, rocks and other natural elements absorb the negatively charged particles in a person’s body, which affect the emotions. This holds especially true if a person is able to walk barefoot in the dirt or grass, which grounds the body.

The practice also gives the body the necessary antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that return the body to health.

Dr. Mercola explains that this practice — known as earthing — gives the outdoor enthusiast the proper amount of electrons. For an extra happiness boost, outdoor enthusiasts can try jogging barefoot on the beach or spending time in the ocean to get back those happy feelings.

Conclusion

For people who avoid exercise as some unpleasant chore, perhaps all that is needed is a new way of looking at the exercise experience. Physical activity can lead to higher levels of good chemicals, healthier levels of antioxidants and to the release of negative emotions.

People who exercise also benefit from greater self-esteem, not only due to the positive endorphins that result, but also from the new sense of self and body image. Finally, seeing exercise as something fun and not as a method of punishment can lead to more happiness, because it allows a person to blow off steam and participate in activities that are challenging and rewarding.

The 5 People You Meet In The Gym

There are five people that are commonly seen at the gym. It doesn’t matter what gym a person goes to – they are found all the time at gyms around the world.

Knowing who these people are can help to provide some entertainment and potentially some motivation while working out. These people have likely been seen in the past – and now they have been identified once and for all.

The Body Builder

The body builder is the one that’s not drinking water but protein shakes or some other strange liquid as they workout. This is because they are trying to get in as much protein as possible to get through their extended workout and prevent muscles from ripping and tearing.

The body builder stays with the weight machines and the free weights. He or she may be using some of the kettle bells and weight sleds in the private area or have gone into a fitness room when there’s not a class in order to go through some of their own routines. They may also be found striking a pose in the wall-length mirrors to see which one they are going to use for competition.

The Personal Trainer

Personal trainers are the ones that are in the best shape at the gym and they are working alongside someone else. They will commonly shout words of encouragement and be pushing people harder and faster.

They have their position because they know how to individualize a workout for a person to get the best results and make recommendations on nutrition at the same time. Personal trainers can be body builders, so there are some basic clues to look for between the two.

Personal trainers may have a clipboard or whistle nearby and be ready to talk to about anyone if it means they can get some added business. Body builders are usually a little less social when they are at the gym because they have one goal in mind.

The Muscle Head

The muscle head may not be the one that is in the greatest of shape at the gym – but he (or she) is using the machines with a vengeance. They likely have a great shape to their body and that’s because of what they had done in a previous life.

These are the people who probably played sports throughout high school and college so they had coaches pushing them. Now they go to the gym in order to get the best workout of their lives but don’t necessarily know what they should be doing without someone telling them.

The Newbie

The newbie gets a lot of credit. He or she may be completely out of shape, but they have their gym clothes on and they are going to try as hard as possible to get their weight off and their body into shape.

These people usually stick to the cardio machines because they are the easiest to figure out. They may go down to one of the weight machines and then stand in front of it for a few minutes to examine it, read the instructions, and slowly start to get into what it is there for.

People can get motivated watching the newbies because they are at the gym to get their bodies into shape. For anyone who think they shouldn’t go to the gym until they look good enough to go simply needs to look at a newbie in order to know that the gym is what will get a person to look their best.

The Free Membership

The person with the free or trial membership can always be spotted because he or she is casually walking around the gym without a clue as to where to go or what to do. When they are spotted on more than one occasion, they are in different locations.

They may be in a fitness class to try it out or walking around the weight room to try and get a hint as to how to use a machine. These people have achieved the hardest part of going to a gym: going. Now they need the motivation to get in there and begin burning calories and building muscles. Often, it involves taking cues from one of the other people found in the gym.

5 Common Dietary Supplement Myths Debunked

Dietary supplements appear everywhere and their popularity is growing. Advertised benefits of supplements range widely from energy boosting to disease prevention and anti-aging.

While dietary supplements can be consumed safely and offer benefits as part of a healthy lifestyle they are not ‘magic pills’. In fact, there are a few myths about dietary supplement safety that need to be dispelled.

Myth 1: Dietary supplements can make-up for a poor diet.

Despite bad eating habits, people want to stay healthy and the ease of popping a pill with the promise of delivering daily doses of vitamins and minerals is enticing. But only a diet of whole foods can provide you the variety of nutrients, fiber, and the protective phytochemicals your body needs. A dietary supplement might help you fill in a critical gap but the idea that a multi-vitamin or doses of specific nutrients will replace whole food nutrition is a myth.

Myth 2: Dietary supplements can prevent and cure diseases

Some supplements are advertised with big promises like cancer prevention and reversal of chronic diseases. A closer inspection will reveal a disclaimer printed right on the packaging that “this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” The National Institute of Health’s Office for Dietary Supplements explains that dietary supplements are “not intended” for disease prevention and that “the manufacturer does not have to prove that the supplement is effective, unlike for drugs.”

Myth 3: The claims of dietary supplement manufacturers have to be true because supplements are regulated by the government.

While not completely a myth, digging a little into what government regulation means for supplements provides a dose of realism. While it is true that the FDA regulates dietary supplements, it is not the same as the regulations for regular foods and drugs. The FDA acknowledges that the supplement manufacturers themselves “are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products.” Many consumers may be surprised to learn from the FDA that “there are no provisions in the law for FDA to ‘approve’ dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer.”

Myth 4: I can take extra doses of dietary supplements to increase the result I want.

Whether its vitamins, protein, or herbal extracts, some consumers believe that if the recommended causes a benefit, than a larger dose would equal a corresponding beneficial increase. Believing that doses can be boosted to speed up or increase a desired affect is another dangerous myth. This is a myth and taking too much of a dietary supplement can have harmful side effects.

Myth 5: I don’t need to talk about the dietary supplements I take with my doctor.

This idea is wrong for a couple of reasons. First, you want to ensure you are using a dietary supplement properly to get the desired health benefit. Take the common dietary supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin.

According to a 2012 report in the Journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, researchers questioned the effectiveness of these supplements in alleviating osteoarthritis. The research pointed to a variety reasons which included “a lack of complete understanding of when and how to apply the compounds.”

Taking dietary supplements may not be as easy as just popping a pill in your mouth. Your doctor can offer you an educated opinion far beyond manufacturer labeling on the effectiveness and suitability of supplements.

Secondly, consumers can overlook the potential interactions between the dietary supplements they buy at the grocery store and the prescriptions they get at the pharmacy. A recent survey of over 1800 patients conducted at the Mayo Clinic revealed that 710 of these patients reported use of dietary supplements and of these, there were 107 interactions (between the supplement and prescription) with “potential clinical significance”.

Bottom Line

The bottom line with dietary supplements is they are not‘magic pills’. Do your research, discuss the supplements you take with your doctor, and above all, maintain an overall healthy lifestyle consisting of a good diet of whole foods, exercise, and rest.