By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC
This is part five in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with “Live well, live happy” in January.
I am excited to share more great news about happiness. As noted previously, most happiness comes not from our circumstances, but from how we think and what we do given our circumstances.
Recently my mother has experienced joint inflammation and pain. She had to cut back on activities, including running around with her grandchildren. I was able to recommend to her a supervised, gentle exercise program. After just a few weeks, she is moving better and is also experiencing a shift in her mood. Her confidence has grown, she feels more hopeful and optimistic, and the return of her joyous laughter makes everyone around her smile.
My mother is experiencing what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her seminal publication, “The How of Happiness.” She says “exercise is the single best thing that you can do to improve your happiness.”
Documented benefits of activity include:
- Enhanced ability to manage stress—Exercise releases norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the body’s stress response.
- A boost in “happy chemicals”—Exercise releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Additionally, exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can sometimes be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression.
- A profound positive effect on your brain—Exercise helps create new brain cells and protects certain brain structures, thereby sharpening memory and focus, and preventing cognitive decline.
- Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Increased focus, creativity and energy.
Despite these benefits, you may still have obstacles to building more movement into your life. These tips may help.
- Fill in the blank: “I’m too ________ to exercise.” Is it busy? Tired? Old? Overwhelmed? Understanding your primary barrier will help you to work through it.
- If you are too busy, what is the smallest amount that you could do?
- If you are tired, experiment with just a bit of activity and see if you get an energy boost.
- If you are prone to black and white thinking, i.e. “unless I am running, I may as well not bother,” know that research overwhelmingly shows the benefit of even a small amount of movement.
- Understand your exercise personality and preferences.
- Do you love the great outdoors or prefer the climate-controlled comfort of your home?
- Do you crave time alone or do you do best when with others?
- Do you prefer joining a class or sports team, or is it easiest to weave in movement during your day?
- Start slow, be gentle and build gradually.
- Look into a restorative or beginning yoga class.
- Walk your way to fitness. It’s easy and can be done almost anywhere.
- If you have joint pain or struggle with conventional exercise, try water therapy, including the aquatics offerings at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute™.
- Work with an expert and get some support. An exercise physiologist or physical therapist can assess your fitness level and offer individualized exercise programming. The Penny George Institute and its LiveWell Fitness Center can offer exactly that.
Even if it has been a while since you’ve been active, it is never too late to start, or restart. Here’s to happiness through movement!
Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.
Past entries by Mary Farrell in the “Live well, live happy” series: