Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the smallest of packages. Exercise is one of those. Even small amounts of exercise have enormous effects on our moods and our levels of happiness and both exercise and happiness are empowered to affect our health in positive ways.
Although there have been numerous scientific studies performed in the past exploring the relationship between exercise and psychological issues such as anxiety and depression, few studies have focused on how physical activity affects our emotions and, in the end, our happiness. Although contributing to our overall knowledge, these former studies didn't really explore the link between upbeat moods and working out.
However, scientists at the University of Michigan decided to amass the data and analyse the results of past studies, take it a step further and explore the relationship between working out, upbeat moods, and happiness.
Some of the studies performed simply asked a group of people how much they worked out and how happy they were. Other studies were scientific experiments where those involved began exercising as researchers measured their level of happiness before and after.
Most studies were relatively small, yet they still involved more than 500,000 adolescents and adults (many senior citizens were involved as well) from different and varied ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
Not surprisingly, the results of these Michigan studies revealed that "exercise is strongly linked to happiness".
Weiyun Chen, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan states, "Every one of the observational studies showed a beneficial relationship between being physically active and being happy."
Studies revealed that just 10 minutes of physical activity daily was empowered to lift moods and boost happiness. Furthermore, if people were challenged and moving - walking, jogging, stretching, swimming, biking, resistance training - the type of exercise didn't seem to matter as much. And, it didn't take a trip to the gym every day to appreciate and enjoy these positive effects either.
Some individuals worked out once or twice weekly but still felt much happier and enjoyed more buoyant moods than those that did nothing. And, if we do the math, adding another day or two to a workout schedule will multiply these results nicely.
And, let's not forget how social interactions at the gym and in different fitness classes help to contribute to our happiness as well. All positive social activity and human interaction play a healthy role in elevating mood and keeping us smiling and when you add "doing something positive for yourself such as exercising" while you are socialising you are in a definite win-win situation.
Exercise improves health and feeling healthier makes us feel happier. Not only do we experience increased energy levels, but exercise is linked to the creation of brain cells responsible for learning and memory. We also enjoy a feeling of accomplishment in meeting personal fitness goals which gives our self-confidence and positive mood a real boost as well.
Cortisol is the hormone released when our bodies feel stressed and exercise lowers cortisol levels in the body while, at the same time, releasing "happy" mood boosting endorphins. It's the perfect one-two punch.
Let's face it, it's hard to be happy, upbeat and at our best mentally when we are tired. If we want to wake fresh and ready to tackle the day mentally, exercise is our first-class ticket because it improves sleep patterns and helps us to fall into a deeper, more restful sleep.
Happiness or the lack thereof not only reveals our emotional state of mind, but happiness also works to protect us in many ways. Happiness and exercise both give the immune system a nice boost, protecting us from catching everything from the common cold to heart disease.
They both increase the production of antibodies (a type of special protein produced by the immune system) - exercise has proven to increase levels by as much as 300 per cent while happiness increases antibodies by 50 per cent.
On the flip side, anxiety and chronic stress make us more susceptible to sickness and disease and crack the door open to stroke, obesity and diabetes along with anxiety and depression and other more serious mental issues.
The next time a bout of stress is attacking, don't try relieving it with a temporary emotional fix such as eating, alcohol, drugs, TV, video games, or wherever your automatic emotional outlets usually go.
Any attempt at relieving stress and anxiety or lifting moods using these behaviours usually results in decreasing happiness rather than increasing it – the very opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
These destructive actions affect far more than our happiness levels and they are plain dangerous to our health if carried out repeatedly.
Life is short – let's get the most out of every minute and have as much fun as we can.
When we feel healthy, we enjoy lots of high energy and activity and happiness come a lot easier. We enjoy total independence. We can romp with the kids and grandkids, join various sports activities without fear and engage in play with our friends and families.
It is a virtual circle of happiness because all these activities work at increasing the happiness we already enjoy!
Life is an amazing adventure and there is nothing that can stop us from actively participating when our emotional state is positively happy, and our bodies are healthy!
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.