Surviving Summit: Find happiness through fitness — seriously
December 21, 2016
Editor's note: Read on for fitness expert Julie Wilson's five unexpected proteins for vegans.
Have you ever noticed how energized you feel after you go for a vigorous hike or lift weights? On the flip side, how do you feel after eating too much junk food? Although it might taste good eating those fudge brownies, those tastes soon diminish, leaving you feeling even worse and actually decreasing your happiness.
We all know that regular fitness is good for your muscles, heart and weight loss, but the happiness it brings is the icing on the cake. Scientific research shows a correlation in the mind and body through positive lifestyle factors, such as exercise. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just 30 to 60 minutes of exercise three to five days a week can lead to mental health benefits.
On the most recent happiness scale study, the Well-Being Index in The Huffington Post conducted by Gallup-Healthways, one of the five considerations is physical health. Colorado scored No. 2 in the physical health category and placed No. 4 overall. Hawaii topped the list at No. 1, and other active and mountainous states like Alaska, Montana and Wyoming were in the top five.
Although other elements contribute to positive well-being, physical fitness should be a top priority. And who doesn't want to be happy?
The science behind it
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We all know exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins, but what exactly does that mean?
Tom Scheve explains in "How Stuff Works" that endorphins are chemicals that cross through the gaps between neurons in order to pass a message from one to the other. When your body receives certain stimuli like sex, food or physical activity, your endorphins rush to the call and minimize the discomfort of exercise and better your mood.
The saying "runner's high" is a term given to the feeling of euphoria from running, intense cardiovascular or other strenuous exercises. The release of endorphins has an addictive effect too, which makes for a great healthy habit — unless you are too obsessive about it.
Depression and anxiety
Exercise is also a proven remedy for depression and anxiety, both immediate and long term. In Scheve's article, he explains how studies on rats indicate that exercise mimics the same effect that antidepressants have on the brain. Exercise helps make you less stressed out, as it reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Krista Stryker explains in "6 Reasons Why Exercise Makes You Happy" that, when you exercise, you subject your body to a low-level form of stress by raising your heart rate and hormonal changes. When you do this enough, your body eventually gets better at handling the rest of life's stressors. Regular exercise diminishes levels of tension, elevates mood and stimulates anti-anxiety effects.
Why exercise makes you happy
It energizes you. Even when it's the last thing you want to do, you will feel more energized afterwards and glad you fit it into your day.
On a mental note, exercise often provides a sense of accomplishment in meeting personal fitness goals. In addition, being physically fit boosts confidence. We are all a bit happier when we know we are looking good!
Getting in that daily workout provides mental stimulation and breaks up the physical monotony of the day. It stimulates new brain cells that are responsible for learning and memory.
To top it off, being physically active also improves the quality of sleep and reduces insomnia. You simply sleep better when your body is physically tired, and more sleep equals more pep in your step.
In the long term, exercise gives a boost to your immune system, as it promotes good circulation and overall health.
Plain and simple, working out works our brain and bodies, which makes us happy. We all have personal reasons and drives to exercise. Inevitably, some forms of exercise will be more attractive to you than others.
The trick is finding what forms of exercise you really enjoy, and then you're doubling up on happiness. Yoga, group fitness classes and hitting the gym are great places to start, but it's also pretty easy to find one of many activities here in the mountains that are fun and good for you. From mountain biking to snowboarding to climbing peaks, or even walking your dog around Lake Dillon, those mountains aren't just for looking at out your window! Exercising outside gives a bigger boost than indoor workouts, and communing with nature is also associated with many positive feelings. Outdoor fitness gives improvements in mood beyond that of just exercise alone — it's the perfect happiness prescription.
As Henry David Thoreau put it, "An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."
Julie Wilson is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist based in Dillon. She loves to be active in the mountains and help others with their health and fitness goals.
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