The message that we get from weight loss reality TV shows and fashion magazines is that the end goal of working out is to get a better looking body, but here’s a newsflash – fitness is not about looking good.
There is so, so much more that fitness has to offer you, so many more reasons to start or maintain a fitness journey. In fact, fitness actually leads to happiness. Not a one that is derived from fitting into a specific pair of jeans or seeing a number on the scale. The joy that comes with fitness is far deeper and more long lasting, not to mention crucial to your overall happiness.
Your chemical romance
The chemical soup that the brain simmers in is an important one. There is a balance to be had, and one that is benefited greatly by regular exercise. The levels of various natural substances in the brain affects everything from level of alertness to mood. What’s truly fascinating is that your brain while sitting on the couch is not the same as your brain while you’re moving. You’ve got the power to affect what’s going on in your brain through fitness.
Cortisol and stress
There’s a reason that cortisol is commonly known as “the stress hormone.” That’s because it’s levels go up with you’re afraid, anxious, angry, or frustrated – times when you have reason to be stressed out. The good news about cortisol is that if you’re actually in trouble, it awakens every bit of your body, and focusing your attention and encouraging you to take decisive action. However consistently high cortisol levels that come from being stressed out actually damage the organs of the body over time.
How can you combat high cortisol levels? Simple – work out. Working out lowers the amount of cortisol that your brain releases, making you physically and mentally healthier, not to mention happier from the chemical level. Lowering cortisol levels is a critical component to finding happiness in the stressful modern world.
Endorphins and happiness
Another reaction that your brain has to exercise is that it releases endorphins, or “happy hormones.” Endorphins numb pain signals that your brain is getting from the body. They are key to happiness! You know that feeling of elation and contentment that is the mark of happiness? That’s the feeling of endorphins flooding your brain. The more endorphins, the more happiness. Exercise is a way to get a natural and healthful boost of them.
The outside effect
Getting outside is a powerful way to improve your mood, not to mention that sunshine is essential for the production of Vitamin D, which clears that foggy brain and helps you to feel happier and more alive. Most any kind of exercise that you do can be taken outside, giving you a double happiness boost. Whether it’s jogging in the park instead of on the treadmill or taking the Pilates mat out onto the porch instead of doing your routine in the living room, exercise lends itself to outdoors. You’ll improve your sense of inner calm as well as offering your senses a feast of sights, sounds, smells and sensations.
Time, patience and sticking with it
It truly does not matter where you start with exercise, because even a small bit of it will give you a critical boost in happiness. The big thing is that you want exercises like Pilates, aerobics, or a combination strength/cardio workout regimens that boost your heart rate and give you a whole body, balanced workout.
Part of the challenge of getting into a rhythm is that many of the boosts that come from working out don’t come right away. We know from research that exercise doesn’t start to show the benefits that we’re looking for until at least two weeks into a workout program. If you’ve been out of the routine of exercising, or if you’re new to exercising altogether, realize that it’s going to take a couple of weeks to start getting many of those benefits. For example, the endorphin boost that you’ll find does happen every time you work out, but it builds over time so you’ll feel better and get more energy and happiness the longer you work out, meaning that the longer you stick with it, the better the feeling.
Create a well laid out goal and support system to push you over that two week initial hump, and hang on! Once you’re over that initial struggle, you’ll find that you’re naturally buoyed forward.
Empowerment is joy
The other way that fitness is crucial to happiness is that it empowers us to feel in control. So much of the unhappiness that people feel in life is because they feel as though they don’t have any control over the things that they’re doing, over the ways that their life is going. You CAN do this! Those who have felt the transformative powers of fitness will tell you that an integral difference in their life before they started working on fitness and after is that before they didn’t feel as though they had power in their lives, and once they took control of their fitness they felt empowered.
The empowerment that fitness brings doesn’t come from other people, but it most definitely something that others will notice, in positive ways and negative ways. But since fitness is a personal journey, the empowerment that comes from it is personal, something that no one can take away from you.
That sense of feeling in control and confident bleeds over into other parts of life, like relationships and career decisions. Happiness in life has to creep into every part of it in order to be worthwhile, in order to fulfill us. That doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time and with everything in life, but happy people know that they can make changes when they need to in order to improve their lives. Fitness is one change that is incredibly personal, affecting who you are 100% of the time, because no matter where you go or what you do, you can’t escape your body.
Getting fit is an essential part of happiness. That’s one thing you CAN control!
Lauren McClerkin is a PMA® Certified Pilates instructor and proud mom of five beautiful children. She created the 100’s to Happiness® Challenge with the goal of bringing the healing practice of Pilates to everyone. The app is available for download on all iOS and Android devices.