How Exercise Improves Happiness

You’ve exercised for your health before, but now you can exercise for your MENTAL health!

Happy HulahooperPublished in 1999 in The Archives of Internal Medicine* was a study proving exercise has a positive effect on Happiness. They took a group of men and women over the age of fifty that were suffering from clinical depression. They divided them into three groups. Group A performed aerobic exercise for four months (they took breaks to sleep of course – just kidding – they exercised for 45 minutes three times a week). Group B they put on the antidepressant, Zoloft. Group C they had do both. Surprisingly the group that just did exercise did just AS well as the other two groups! IMPORTANT: This is in NO WAY suggesting you throw away your antidepressants. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS speak to your prescriber before going off of any medications. It can be very dangerous for you to stop taking your medication without guidance. What I am endorsing is that you start exercising and you TALK to your prescriber about the possibility of getting off of the antidepressants. If you feel depressed and are not on antidepressants, still talk to your doctor and/or mental health professional. But please know that regular exercise is possible avenue to alleviate symptoms of depression and is obviously ideal for people who do not like to take pills.

Do some exercises make you happier than others? YES. Research by Ed Pierce of Bridgewater College states that while light exercise or weight lifting is beneficial it is not enough to release endorphins (sometimes referred to as “happy chemicals”). To feel the happy effects of exercise it is recommended to do aerobic workout for at least 20-30 minutes per day at 80% of your capacity. However, the really smart folks at the Mayo Clinic purport that even squeezing in 10-15 minutes per day will give you a great Happiness boost but the effects may not necessarily carry over to the days you do NOT work out.

One of the twelve Happiness Habits prescribed by Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness is Taking Care of Your Body (Physcial Exercise). Making exercise a habit or part of your routine is one of the keys to success in this arena. Conversely, variety too is a must for staving off boredom. So, do your exercise at the same time of the day but shake it up – try something new!

Also, it is paramount that you find an exercise that you ENJOY doing! If you don’t like it, the liklihood that you will not stick with it. So, you don’t like traditional forms of exercise such as basketball, swimming or running? Get creative! I have recently taken up the (pseudo) drums – it’s a better workout than I would have thought. There are lots of choices with the Wii to combine video games and exercise. I also recently heard that paddle boating on the Great Salt Lake is becoming popular. What is YOUR favorite way to exercise? Share it with us by commenting on this article.

Finally, my personal recommendation is that everything is better with music and many, many sports can be enhanced with a generous dose of your favorite hopping music.

Of all of this, I want to ask you RIGHT NOW to think of one step that you are willing to make toward exercising and ultimately being happier. No, really. Right now. Please pick up a pen or your make a note in your calendar and write down something you are willing to commit to do in the next three days. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Frank Clayton

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or dietician. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, specializing in Happiness. I recommend that you always consult your doctor and/or prescriber before making life-style changes.

*Effect of exercise training on older patients with major depression, 159; 2349-56

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