Today I want to talk about exercise and the role it has in your pursuit of happiness. I will also be writing about the profoundly positive impact that exercise has had in my own life.
Exercise makes you happy. There. That’s all you need to know.
Go exercise and be happy.
In all seriousness though, there is a wealth of scientific studies that have focused on the way exercise can impact happiness, and I have never seen one that shows a negative effect. In the interest of not turning this into a scientific literature review of all studies on the subject (and there are A LOT), I will simply allude to 3 studies I found during a cursory search.
1)Effects of physical exercise programme on happiness among older people by M Khazaee-Pool 1, R Sadeghi, F Majlessi, A Rahimi Foroushani and 2) Don’t Worry, Be Happy: cross sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 different European countries by Justin Richards, Xiaoxiao Jian, Paul Kelly, Josephine Chau, Adrian Bauman and Ding Ding were long term studies were subjects were asked to fill out a survey reporting their own level of happiness before and after participating in long term (several months) exercise programs.
Similarly, 3) The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review by Julia C. Basso and Wendy A. Suzuki measured their subjects pre and post exercise levels of happiness as indicated by neurotransmitters and other objective indicators and they did so following a single bout of exercise.
|Endorphins: the feel good hormone released when you exercise|
All 3 studies showed evidence, both subjective and objective, of exercise leading to happiness and they demonstrated the effect in both short term, immediately after exercise benefits, and long-term benefits of regularly exercising over many weeks. There is much more research out there, all showing similar results, and now that I have begun looking at it, the exercise scientist in me is chomping at the bit to dive deeper, but for purposes of the blog I’ll avoid getting too deep into the weeds of the science, for now anyway. Bottom line though, exercise promotes happiness.
Don’t believe me? Try it yourself.
The role that exercise has played in my life cannot be praised highly enough. I first began regularly exercising at the age of 15 and continue to do so to this day. When I began, I was a sack of bones, who barely weighted more than 100lbs soaking wet, and my self-esteem was shit. I watched my classmates start growing into strong athletic men, while I remained a string bean of a little boy (there I go comparing myself to others again). I thought I was doomed to a life of physical inferiority and self-loathing and just generally not enjoying existing as myself.
Just before I began exercising, I had either quit or been cut from every team I had been on and was starting to get a little soft, skinny fat you could say. Luckily, my parents were avid fitness enthusiasts and they got me working with their trainer. I became hooked within a few weeks as soon as I started to see results. My trainer from my teenage years continues to be a close friend and mentor now, nearly 2 decades later. He taught me that I can achieve my goals through hard work, and more importantly he taught me how to love myself.
That isn’t to say that in order to love yourself you have to be an avid gym goer or athlete. Not at all. You are 100% worthy of love and have every reason to be happy, and joyous as exactly who you are. I do think that some form of regular activity however, will help you find that sense of happiness that you may be lacking. I am especially grateful for the evidence that regular exercise over time promotes long term happiness, and not just the short-term euphoria that one often experiences after a workout. This doesn’t even consider the multitude of physical health benefits that exercise improves such as longevity, and quality of life, allowing you more time to enjoy all the other things that make you happy: children, friends, movies, books, travel, and more.
I would caution you though not to put too much of your sense of happiness into your physical prowess and definitely not into your physical appearance. Unfortunately, our bodies are ephemeral and subject to reclamation or dramatic change by the higher powers of the universe. You could get sick or have an accident that prevents you from participating in exercise, and if your sense of self-worth is too tied up with your physical self, this sudden change can lead you towards a depression.
Additionally, I want to caution against the over correction of loathing or shame with regards to your physical self which is arrogance and ego. You don’t want to be that person, I know because at times I have allowed myself to become this way. Feeling a sense of superiority to others or narcissistic obsession. This is a major overshoot and will ultimately result in unhappiness for you and probably others as well. So, no!
I am not encouraging you to become a health nut, who eats, breathes, lives and dies exercise, unless that’s what you want, and I’m not suggesting you kill yourself in the pursuit of physical attainments, but I do encourage you to participate in exercise regularly. Consult your physician if there is any doubt in your mind that you can be safely active, and if you do have restrictions I hope you can find something, anything that you can do to be active, even a slow walk outside. Exercise has been a major pillar of my life, helping me learn both self-esteem and humility, given me a great hobby, introducing me to many amazing people, at one point being my career, and hopefully leading me to a long happy life.
I will leave you a quote by Socrates, the same man who gave me the inspiration for the name of this blog. Disclaimer: the first part of the quote says that no man (or woman) has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical fitness. Yes, you have every right. This isn’t ancient Athens and there is no threat of war against Sparta or the Persians. The real reason why I share this quote is because i find it fascinating that even 2500 years ago, our ancestors even then understood the importance of physical activity and the pursuit of happiness.
|Just ignore the first sentence!|
“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Socrates.
Links to the above referenced studies, in case you want to take a closer look: