Exercise – Why It’s So Much More than “Physical” and How It’s Good for Your Mental Health

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

It’s hard to be happy if you’re, literally, sick and tired all the time; and the unfortunate reality is that far too many people are sick and tired much of the time. They might not feel “sick” in the way that usually sends them to their doctors, but they’re frequently not firing on all cylinders or, as we say in Positive Psychology, thriving and flourishing.

There are several reasons for people not being at their healthiest and these include (among others) lack of sleep (the average person gets an hours less sleep each night than he or she needs) and poor diet (less than 10% of Australians, for example, eat the recommended amounts of vegetables every day). But in this article, I’m going to focus on one of the other major contributors to health and wellness, which is exercise.

Now most people understand that physical activity contributes to our physical health but what they don’t often understand is that exercise also contributes to our mental health; in fact, exercise is one of the most commonly used and one of the most effective “stress busters” and antidepressants, as well as being one of the simplest, cheapest and most powerful happiness boosters!

And the great thing about this is that happiness, in turn, promotes physical health and wellbeing. Happy people tend to be healthier, they get sick less often and if they do get sick they recover more quickly; controlling for other variables happy people actually live longer!

So, it’s generally not all that hard to convince people that exercise is good for them but given this, it’s disappointing when we look at the research and see how few people do it often enough. Why? Well lack of motivation is typically at the heart of the matter but the good news is that today I’m going to offer you some simple tips that will enhance your motivation and help you get moving and get happy.

Firstly, it’s well known that attitude determines action; what you think affects what you do so if you get your thinking right you’ll be making things much easier for yourself. The “right” sorts of thoughts need to be positive and realistic; they also need to suit you, so play around with this until you find something that you feel comfortable with. In some way or other, however, tell yourself that (1) you can do it and (2) it’ll be worth it (i.e. the long-term gains will outweigh any short-term pains).

Secondly, make moving and exercising just part of your day; make getting to the gym or going for a run, or doing some form of physical activity, automatic, non-negotiable behaviours! And regardless of what “formal’ exercise you do, make non-exercise activity (or incidental activity) part of your life also. That is, walk where ever and you can take the stairs when you can, and know that movement creates motivation; do anything and tell yourself that something is almost always better than nothing.

Finally, capitalise on the power of positivity by making exercising fun! Happiness and positive emotions are energising and inspiring so pump up your favourite music, bring some variety to your routine and/or work out with your friend(s).

Research recently conducted by The Happiness Institute in collaboration with one of the large gym chains found that close to 15 million Australians are simply not moving enough. Accordingly, they’re missing out not just on the physical health benefits, but also on one of the easiest ways to enjoy more happiness. Don’t you be one of those statistics!

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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