Training for happiness will help you to change

Is happiness part of your focus when you think about your training program? That may seem like an odd thing to ask but it really should be a significant focus with your training. Training happy makes it easier to stick to,

Science has yet to confirm a direct causal link between happiness and health. However, there is more and more research showing a link between psychological wellbeing and numerous positive health outcomes: Stronger immunity to illness and disease (which let’s be honest is crucial in the wake of Covid 19), fewer chronic-pain conditions, reduced risk of diabetes, reduced heart-disease risk and a life longevity (Archer 2018). Studies also show that happier people engage in more healthy lifestyle behaviours—including physical activity (Steptoe 2019). Research also shows activities such as keeping a gratitude journal, can enhance your happiness levels, possibly because it draws attention to the good things happening in your life. This demonstrates that a boost in happiness can possibly increase your healthy behaviours and help you to form healthy habits such as sticking to a health and fitness program more consistently.

It’s important to recognise that the only person that can boost your happiness is you. Limiting your scepticism and having an open mind to new approaches is your responsibility. A fitness professional for example can help you by designing your program to focus on physical and emotional wellbeing together, but you must be open to different approaches and experiment with what works for you as an individual.

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Happiness and exercise: A match made for each other

Scientific evidence confirms a positive relationship between physical activity and mental health. Studies in positive psychology show that happiness is associated with a life longevity and a higher quality life. Happy people tend to lead healthy lifestyles and are more likely to be fit, and to eat healthier. “This is what we call ‘a positive feedback loop’. When you have more positive emotions you are more inclined to take more positive actions in your daily routines, which will then lead to more happiness and wellbeing. Let’s delve in deeper.

The happier you are the more active you are: Harvard University researchers analysed data from almost 10,000 male and female adults assessed at six points over 11 years, they found that psychological wellbeing was independently associated with reaching and maintaining higher physical activity levels for the duration of the study. Study authors concluded that interventions targeting psychological well-being might be a way to increase physical activity in addition to enhancing psychological health (Kim et al. 2017).

In another study of 1,000-plus patients with coronary heart disease, investigators evaluated the association of a positive mood state with health behaviours over 5 years. This revealed a link between greater psychological wellbeing and behaviours like being active, sleeping better and not smoking. This increase in positive mood state occurred together with improvements in physical activity, sleep quality and medication adherence (Sin, Moskowitz & Whooley 2015).

Happiness boosting activities also increase physical activity levels: A study of 242 patients in 2012 who had undergone coronary catheterisation procedures found that those who participated in “positivity” practices – like reminders to think about proud life moments and to enjoy positive thoughts – were 1.7 times more likely to achieve physical activity goals than those who did not. The positivity group also experienced improvement in alleviating depressive symptoms (Peterson et al. 2012).

Exercise can boost happiness: Exercise can play a key role in reducing anxiety and depression – so much so that it can be a valuable therapy for those with clinical conditions. However, the type of exercise matters. In a meta-analysis of almost 100 studies that included a combined sample size of 648,726 people, researchers found that leisure time activity and activities such as walking and running were positively associated with mental health benefits, but work-related physical activity was not (White et al. 2017).

Researchers are suggesting that by focusing on activities that increase happiness you may be able to boost your ability to make exercise part of your lifestyle and improve your overall health and wellbeing. By integrating positive practices into your daily routine you are more likely to stick to something and succeed.

Three Primary Factors Influencing Happiness

Numerous studies show that once basic needs are consistently met, more material goods do not increase happiness (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade 2005). Another misconception is that happy people do not experience negative emotions, loss or life disappointments – or that positivity requires denial. This is wrong. Studies have revealed that “happy people” have developed thought processes and strategies that enable them to function well in life and to evaluate life favourably, regardless of what comes their way (Kim et al. 2017).

Happiness is within reach for everyone since it is strongly influenced by our own efforts. There are three primary factors that contribute to your happiness:

Genetics determine 50% of our basic temperament and disposition. Examples of personality traits that increase happiness include kindness, enthusiasm, gratitude, hopefulness, optimism and a good sense of humour. So if you can have a laugh at your own expense then you’re on the right path.

Circumstances influence 10%. Examples are life events, life status (being single, married, divorced or widowed) and material wellbeing (including wealth).

Efforts make up 40%. These include what we do on a daily basis, what we think and what we seek from our lives.

While your genetics cannot be altered, you can influence your circumstances and everyday efforts – That’s half the battle right there.

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In addition to avoiding negativity, you can read more using the wealth of research on known ways to help you to increase your positive wellbeing throughout the fitness experience. These are just some creative ways, based on the PERMA principles, which Seligman drew from years of research.

Focus Your Attention to “Positive Emotions”

Happier people experience positive emotions more frequently – ideally, multiple times daily. Try these following techniques –

Start and end with visual focus:  begin and end every session with a short visualisation exercise, connect to you heart, body, and mind. Draw attention to your mood, energy, and thoughts.

Draw your thoughts away from negativity, be aware of your body language and negative self-talk:  By taking your attention away from negativity you’ll leave more space for connecting to positive feelings and thoughts.

Engage in the Present

Happiness occurs in the present, but half of the time our minds are wandering, research by Harvard shows that people are happier when they’re focused on what they’re doing, even if it’s an activity they don’t enjoy (Killingsworth & Gilbert 2010). Here are some tips to engage with the present –

Draw attention to your senses: touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste. Feel strength and power in your body, feel the energy from the music, and immerse yourself into your surroundings. Outdoor workouts are great because there is so much sensory stimulation.

Choose exercises or activities that take you into a “flow” state: Go at your own level, do workouts you enjoy and try not to compare yourself to other people’s levels. The flow state is when you are doing an activity that challenges you enough that you have to maintain focus on it but not too challenging that you cannot do it effectively.

Focus on a Sense of Meaning

People who have a sense of meaning in their lives tend to live longer and enjoy better health (Alimujiang et al. 2019). And this meaning needs to be “intrinsic” (based on inner desires), rather than “extrinsic” (a reaction to external pressures). Find your why. Why are you training? Look deeper than the typical ‘’to lose weight’’ or ‘’to feel better’’. Goals like these often come about from something else. For example, do you want to be healthier because you’d like to be have more freedom in your life, or be able to enjoy a longer life with your loved ones?

By focusing only on appearance, you may ultimately be demotivating yourself, what techniques can you use to go past this?

Ask yourself questions to identify intrinsic goals: “What sort of impact do you want exercise to have on your life?”, “How do you expect or want your life to be different when you accomplish your fitness goal?”, ‘’How important is it for you to live a healthy lifestyle on a scale of 1 to 10?’’.

Connect your “why” to each workout: Once you know your why, this can help to support a shift to a growth mindset, in which you understand the potential of training, rather than simply viewing it as a chore.

Acknowledge Your’ “Successes”

By recognising your successes, you can boost your self-efficacy, meaning a stronger belief in your ability to make change happen. Recognise that every step forward you take is a success and is getting you closer to your end goal –

Remind yourself of your accomplishments. Congratulate yourself by telling yourself how well you have done by doing something that is good for you.

Track your progress with exercise logs or digital devices. This will reinforce the achievement of consistently showing up and allow you to look back and see how well you are doing.

Positive mindset

Finally

Making any sort of change in your life requires desire, consistency, and patience. The correlation between body and mind has been proven through countless studies. The biggest piece advice I could give to anyone looking to make a lifestyle change is to regularly check in with your ”why”. This is a key component to keeping you on track. Choose exercise activities you enjoy but also be open to trying new things. When you do try something new make sure you focus on your own level rather than comparing yourself to someone else, as this can be demotivating. Most of all recognise that you don’t have to do it alone. Gather the support of your friends and family, and seek the help of a professional. Put yourself in a position where you cannot fail and have belief in your ability to achieve whatever you put your mind to.

Behaviour change is not something that happens overnight, but by having a positive outlook and focusing on enjoying the experience you are much more likely to make it a lifestyle shift that you can maintain for the rest of your life, instead of another failed diet or cancelled gym membership.

 

Yours in Health and Wellbeing,

 

Coach Andrew

Edinburgh, UK

 

References

Alimujiang, A., et al. 2019. Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. JAMA Network Open, 2 (5), e194270.
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