You know that exercise, sleep, and balanced nutrition is vital for your body - but can it have an impact on how you feel?
This blog post describes how taking care of your body through nutrition, rest, physical activity, and proven exercise plans can increase your sense of happiness.
The Mind-Body Connection
In Western society, it isn’t uncommon to think of our bodies as separate from our minds. We talk about our “relationship with our body” when discussing body image as if our real us is what we think and feel, and our body is somehow a separate entity.
Additionally, when we talk about health, we often refer to mental health and physical health and separate and isolated dimensions of health.
These separations can be helpful, even if they are oversimplified. For example, they help us classify and understand the complexities of what we feel is going on in our bodies and minds separately. They also help us to understand how specific actions benefit our physical wellbeing or mental wellbeing.
For example, most people exercise for physical wellbeing – more regulated metabolism, strength, flexibility, and body composition. People meditate and take vacations from work for mental and emotional health – relieving stress and anxiety, regaining focus, and reducing mental fatigue.
In reality, however, there is a direct and complex connection between your bodily health and your mental and emotional health. Your physical health impacts your hormones, energy levels, and metabolism, which has a direct, short-term impact on how you feel. Staying active and frequently exercising at a level you are comfortable with, eating balanced nutrition, and resting, can have a direct, immediate effect on your mood – specifically your level of happiness.
How Exercise, Nutrition, and Rest Can Boost Happiness
Over the past several decades, researchers have been interested in the impact of exercise on perceived or subjective levels of happiness. A systematic review on the relationship between exercise and happiness identified the findings of 23 studies on the impact of exercise on happiness. What the researchers found was the following:
- As little as 10 minutes of physical activity per week or one day of doing exercise per week might result in increased levels of happiness
- Overall health is related to social functioning
- Studies carried out with older adults and cancer survivors found that both aerobic exercise and stretching and balancing exercises effectively improved happiness.
Despite the lack of experimental trials that study the relationship between happiness and exercise, there is a consistent positive relationship between physical activity to gain the benefits of happiness.
While researchers cannot make firm conclusions about the mechanism of action between physical activity and happiness, several researchers present hypotheses. These include:
- Exercise and increased blood flow can directly increase the release of endorphins, happiness-inducing hormones.
- Regular exercise can improve relationships with others, including giving you a sense of community.
- Regular exercise can make you feel better about your physical abilities and potential and increase your self-esteem.
Together, these mechanisms may work to increase your sense of happiness.
Nutrition is seen by many health researchers as the foundation of happiness. This might make sense to you if you are someone who truly enjoys food.
Unlike other species, humans eat for pleasure as well as for nutrition. Food is part of our identities and cultures and we have developed a complex sense of taste to enjoy it. Think about how eating our favorite food makes us feel – happy, of course! However, to enjoy our food, we need to work on having a positive relationship with food – knowing what your body needs and enjoying your food choices will improve your mood, as long as you don’t feel guilty after doing so.
Beyond the immediate feeling that comes from eating, nutrition also impacts our body and brain health, and thus on our emotions.
Ultimately, it is crucial to meet your body’s nutrient needs to avoid cellular stress and improve your happiness. According to researchers, some of the specific eating behaviors associated with happiness include:
- Eating breakfast
- Eating fruits
- Eating vegetables
- Eating a variety of foods
- Eating with others
- Eating culturally-acceptable foods
- Eating foods you enjoy
As you might imagine, nutrition and physical activity go hand in hand since increased physical activity will also increase your nutritional requirements. Being undernourished or over nourished, for example doesn’t provide our body what it needs in the right amounts. In this sense, balanced nutrition and physical activity are linked to, not only greater perceived happiness, but also better overall quality of life.
Sleep and Rest
Sleep and rest are often left out when thinking of physical behaviors that impact mental health. However, it also might be the most logical connection. How do you feel when your alarm wakes you up after a night of little sleep? What happens when you force your mind and body to work several hours back to back without taking a break?
Most people would feel sleepy and in a bad mood – definitely not happy. In this sense, rest is an essential component of happiness.
A study among Japanese adolescents described the relationship between subjective happiness levels and sleep problems. The researchers found that lower subjective happiness levels may be the result of sleep problems.
Another study found that sleep quality influenced a sense of happiness, which, in turn, leads to greater chances of leading a wellness lifestyle.
Happiness is often seen solely because of social interactions and our perceptions of the world and the life we are living. However, our feelings and emotions are influenced by all our actions, including those that are done with physical health maintenance in mind. While improvements in your physical health may be the motivators for exercising, eating balanced meals, and getting enough sleep, making these elements a priority can also have a significant influence on our perceived happiness.
Are you ready to take steps to feeling happier? SimplyFitness is here to help. We have exercise plans tailored to you, so that not only will you be closer to achieving your nutrition, wellness, and fitness goals, you’ll also feel happier.
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