“Life is what you make of it.” “You are responsible for your own happiness.” Sounds familiar, right? We are often told to take happiness into our own hands, but that’s easier said than done. My advice? Start with your fitness routine, where a few simple practices have a huge affect on your overall happiness.
It’s well known that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative moods while improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms of depression like low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
To me, the relationship between working out regularly and an improved sense of well-being is obvious. After a decade in the fitness industry, I’ve seen all the ways that exercise lifts the spirits. Based on my observations, here are five easy-to-implement practices that are remarkably effective at helping you feel better.
1. Start a Dedicated Breathing Practice
One of the strongest cultural values affecting our health is going after money over everything else. We love money, we want more of it, and we think money can buy happiness. My hypothesis? In the pursuit of “working more” to “make more,” many people pick up faulty breathing mechanics. Yes, it’s possible – likely, even – that you are breathing incorrectly and affecting your mood in the process.
No matter what your stressors are, everyday stimuli often prompt subconscious changes in breathing, such as taking more breaths than necessary or accidentally holding your breath. Remedy this by implementing a 10-minute breathing practice once a day. Try Pranayama breathing:
- Inhale for three seconds,
- Hold for three seconds,
- Exhale for six seconds,
- Pause for three seconds,
- Repeat for ten minutes (or build up to it).
Breathwork may not be the sexiest addition to your workout routine, but since it’s so simple and beneficial, I consider it the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to improving fitness and boosting happiness.
2. Begin your day with a low-intensity walk or jog
How much happier do you feel when you exercise first thing in the morning? Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.
Pick your favorite low-intensity activity (for maximum mood-boosting effects, get outside), set aside your phone, and devote the first 30 minutes of each day to you. You don’t need to do anything intense. Getting some outdoor movement first thing in the morning, a couple of days a week, shouldn’t be too much to ask of yourself.
Not only will you feel happier, but working out before breakfast also helps your body burn more fat. As an added bonus, exposure to natural light first thing in the morning helps regulate your sleep cycle so you can sleep more soundly.
3. Go Hard At Least Once Per Week
People who are happy all the time don’t sweat the small stuff – they prepare for it. When you incorporate high-intensity training into your routine, your body gets better at handling the stress response. In turn, this helps you maintain good spirits despite life’s obstacles.
The good news? You only need to do this once a week, and you don’t have to sustain each workout for a long period of time. You don’t need a gym or a class either. Try five rounds of this simple routine:
- 30 seconds of jumping jacks
- 15 seconds rest
- 30 seconds of slamballs
- 15 seconds rest
You’ll feel surprisingly good after just seven and a half minutes! If you can make it to 10-15 minutes, you’ll experience even more rewards from a bigger blast of serotonin and dopamine. These “feel good” neurotransmitters make it impossible not to be in a good mood when you cultivate them in a healthy way.
4. Take Your Fitness Outdoors
When most people think of exercise, they usually think of some activity performed indoors. Get that notion out of your head! By exercising in natural environments, you’ll experience greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy, and positive engagement, along with decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression.
The weekends are typically the perfect time to immerse yourself in nature. Since it's fall, you could plan a family hike to watch the leaves change or go bike riding. You don’t have to go too intensely on these days. Just get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air.
5. Push Yourself to Play a Game
Do you think that fitness is all about exercise machines and workout devices? Games, sports, and outdoor recreation aren’t just for kids. Light-hearted games tap into your childhood experience, while healthy, friendly competition ignites a fun sense of challenge.
At your next gathering of family or friends, bring out the frisbee, cornhole boards, or Spikeball (a new Skyterra guest favorite). Even if it doesn’t feel like a workout, there are big brain benefits at work. There’s nothing like play to increase happiness.
Your Happiness Call to Action
You don’t need to incorporate all of these practices into your routine all at once. You can test the waters and start exploring the benefits even if you just choose one. Add it to your regular routine and see how it makes you feel.
Can’t tell if it’s working? Often, when you place a new form of fitness into your routine and take it away, you’ll see how big the difference really is. Try a new approach if your first attempt doesn’t feel right.
Lastly, take ownership over your happiness. If you don’t like how you’re feeling, ask the hard questions to what needs to change before you waste too much time. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” You only have so much time – make it count!