Getting happy is one of the greatest benefits of exercise. As a personal trainer I use this phrase on a regular basis with my clients because it is true, exercise changes the brain in a good way. There are actual reasons why a workout positively impacts your mental outlook and most experts will agree that better circulation, reduced inflammation, and exposure to the environment are all direct and indirect factors that enhance mental health.
When was the last time you were in a bad mood and do you remember what caused it? It was just the other day when I felt like I got up on the wrong side of the bed and had no idea why. You might be a person who gets in a bad mood over something that happened in the past that isn’t quite sorted out yet. The blues may present themselves over a little thing like a scratch on your car or having your cell phone crack or break. However, some moods just seem to come out of nowhere, like mine did and in my opinion they are the worst. You don’t even know why you are in a bad mood in the first place. You don’t have an explanation for it and if someone says, “Oh I’m sorry you’re feeling badly what’s wrong?” you don’t even know how to answer that question. At this point if you aren’t careful the downward spiral toward the doldrums is bound to take place.
So how can one recover the day and turn that frown up upside down? There is interesting research on exercise that involves neurobiology the study of how physical activity directly affects brain chemistry. For example, if you are being a big grouch and you go out for a walk typically you come back in a better mood. Performing some type of exercise can cause changes in the neurochemicals that affect mood and with the release of the “happy chemicals” into your brain like dopamine the feelings of pleasure and happiness take place. Another chemical that is released when you exercise are endorphins. They interact with the receptors in your brain in the same way morphine does. This is because they act like analgesics, which simply means they diminish the perception of pain. I think I will head out for a run right about now!
One of the largest studies ever conducted was with a group of 121,000 nurses who were surveyed on their lifestyle habits in 1976. The survey was repeated every two years and the information is still being looked at today. The results of the study were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association finding that the group who walked for six hours a week were 20 percent less likely to show cognitive impairment than those who walked less. Another study showed across the board that greater amounts of exercise were associated with greater brain volume.
Super cool science, but relatively basic…exercise and be happy.
A smile on your face once the little drop of sweat slides down your back may be enough to pull you out of the dumps. Nonetheless, being physically active your body will also garner these additional health benefits; less stress, more confidence, more energy, less anxiety and a phenomenal night’s rest. Some of my other favorite attributes to walking is it’s a moderate calorie burner. Walking at a 15-minute mile pace will burn about 118 calories. Walking after a meal can aid in digestion and help combat heartburn and as a personal trainer I love walking because it is the gateway to exercise. Begin with walking and watch it turn into hiking, running and cross training.
I am in a bad mood quick, exactly what can I do? There really isn’t one “greatest or best” type of exercise. Choose the one you like the most so that you can look forward to the activity. If you hate running don’t go out for a run. If you have two left feet aerobic dance is probably not going to work on that frown, instead it may add a little frustration to the situation. My choice was to go for a walk the other day and it worked. Edward Payson Weston, an avid walker took off from New York to San Francisco in 1909 at the age of 70! He certainly knew the power of walking and it’s benefits. “Anyone can walk, it’s free, like the sun by day and the stars by night. All we have to do is get on our legs, and the roads will take us anywhere.”
Early in my fitness career I was introduced to a different type of walking, walking meditation. I enjoyed the process of learning how to slow down and become mindful and just like eating we need to become more aware. This exercise is another method to bring calm to the mind, body, and soul.
To begin stand up straight and feel your feet touching the ground. Curl the thumb of your left hand and wrap your fingers around it. Place it just above your belly button. Now wrap the right hand around it, resting the right thumb in the space that has formed between your left thumb and index finger. Look forward and slightly down toward the ground in front of you, step forward with one foot and feel the heel hit the ground then the ball of the foot and finally the toes. Do the same with the right foot and feel your foot as it moves from the heel, ball and toes. Walk at this steady pace. Keep your attention to the sensation of your feet touching the ground. Breath…
The average American today manages less than 5,000 steps a day when ideally they should be doing over 10,000. We know there is growing evidence suggesting that walking really is one of the best exercises you can do and most importantly it can put a smile on your face. We need to take up what some famous folks in history did, walk! Charles Dickens could rack up 30 miles a day. Beethoven wandered around Vienna where the influence of his walks is heard in his 6th Symphony. Steve Jobs walked and Mark Zuckerberg is fond of walking meetings. In a TED talk Nilofer Merchant produced a startling statistic- we are on our butts for almost 10 hours a day on average. Ironic that Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter takes all his new employees on a famous epic walk through the streets of San Francisco. (Note to self, social media on the go)
Bottom line is walk. It is good for us in so many ways. I have been coaching walking for decades and will continue to do so for many more. What are you waiting for? There isn’t an excuse good enough not to, especially when the outcome is happiness.