Moving Toward Happiness

How to be a bit happier

“. . .”
“Hello?”
“Hi . . . .”
“Hey how’s it going!”
“Hi Ted. No, I don’t want to go hiking. I want to sleep. Do you have any idea what time it is?”
You can’t believe he called again. It is your annoying friend, Ted. That guy who is always going on about hiking and running and sometimes even camping, all that stuff you were always so glad to avoid. And you don’t feel great to begin with, all you want to do is sleep a bit more.
“Are you sure?? I think you do! Here, let me tell you what I just learned.”
The problem isn’t just that Ted does all this ridiculous stuff, that is fine. The problem is that he gets so excited about it, he never seems to understand that you just don’t like exercise that much. Sure, it might help your heart or something, but you are probably fine.
“Uh, Ted I really don’t think I want to hear about it.”
“Aw, hey, come on . . .”
Okay now you feel like you should listen – it will only take a minute, and Ted will be disappointed if he doesn’t get to talk about . . . Whatever he wants it is. Why would he ever think you would actually want to go on a hike?
“Alright, Ted, what have you just learned? And why do you have to tell me at eight o’clock on Saturday morning?”
We have all heard that exercise is good for your health, and so many of us have bought a gym pass and gone religiously three days a week every week. For three weeks. Of course exercise is great health in general. Many people do not realize how great exercise is for your happiness, or how little it takes.
Depression is a serious mental illness, and by the estimate of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America affected over 15 million1Americans in 2014. Beyond this many people who are not seriously ill have some symptoms of depression. The reason Ted was so excited was because he had just learned a bit more about the effects of his beloved hiking. While there are other ways to improve symptoms of depression2, there are a couple ways that exercise can help – even just walking. Research has shown that, for example, pilates can improve depressive symptoms, like in thisarticle3, which explores the effects of a 12-week program of exercise on elderly subjects. Another study looked at subjects who had alcohol dependence, and how exercise changed their alcohol cravings and mood4. Interestingly, this study found that the effects of exercise were greater as the 12-week exercise program progressed, indicating that regular exercise is most helpful and has a cumulative effect4.
Looking further into the research we find that even simply walking has a significant effect on depressive symptoms5, and in fact walking outside is even better at making you feel better6. Part of this is that exercising outside seems to increase energy levels more than doing it indoors, which can help continue maintain a pattern. In fact, one of the primary difficulties experienced by the subjects of this study was a lack of energy7.
While we cannot be certain of how exercise will affect any individual from these studies alone, they do provide evidence from which we can see that in general, exercise helps us feel better when we are not feeling great. And maybe we can understand why Ted, annoying as he is, is so excited about hiking.
How to exercise
It can be difficult to follow an exercise program. Below I will outline my suggestions for getting consistent exercise. This is my personal suggestion and is backed by my experience in exercise science and athletic coaching, however it is not drawn from externally validated source.
1.     Pick a time that you can take 20 minutes consistently – whether every day, every other day, or less, but at least once a week. For example as soon as you wake up before starting anything else, or as soon as you get home from work. Or even after leaving work before going home.
2.     Go outside and start walking.
3.     Turn back and stop whenever you feel like it, or after 20 minutes, whichever you prefer. To begin with, it is not important to stay out the full time every time – it is most important that you simply start.
4.     Once you are comfortable walking for about 20 minutes, if you want you can jog for a minute sometimes. Do to that it is helpful to have a timer or stopwatch, and you want to start with a pattern of 30 seconds jogging – 2 minutes walking. Then, increase to 1 minute jogging, 2 minutes walking. After that, you can move up to and even split of jogging and walking, and then slowly increase the jogging time as much as you like.*
5.     Make sure to drink water both before and after exercising, and it is also a good idea to take a water bottle with you.
*Please consult a doctor or other medical professional before starting any new exercise program, such as the one I describe above. Please stop and consult a doctor or other medical professional if you experience unusual pain or discomfort of any sort.
Another thing that can help is to exercise with a friend. If you can find a Ted in your life – or even become that annoying, enthusiastic person for someone else – you might find that you both end up happier.

I know that I have not covered everything you can do to feel better, or all the best ways to exercise. I would love to hear from you about what makes you feel better, or how you stay motivated to exercise. What has helped you the most?
Citations:
References:
1. https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
2. Teresa Freire, Ana Teixeira, Eliana Silva, Gabriela P. Matias, Interventions for youth depression: from symptom reduction to well-being and optimal functioning, Journal of Behavior, Health & Social Issues, Volume 6, Issue 2, November 2014–April 2015, Pages 9-19, ISSN 2007-0780, http://dx.doi.org/10.5460/jbhsi.v6.2.50816.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2007078015300018)
3. Mahyar Mokhtari, Maryam Nezakatalhossaini, Fahimeh Esfarjani, The Effect of 12-Week Pilates Exercises on Depression and Balance Associated with Falling in the Elderly,Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 70, 2013, Pages 1714-1723, ISSN 1877-0428, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.01.246.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042813002474)
4. Richard A. Brown, Mark A. Prince, Haruka Minami, Ana M. Abrantes, An exploratory analysis of changes in mood, anxiety and craving from pre- to post-single sessions of exercise, over 12 weeks, among patients with alcohol dependence, Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 11, October 2016, Pages 1-6, ISSN 1755-2966, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2016.04.002.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296615300296)
5. Roma Robertson, Ann Robertson, Ruth Jepson, Margaret Maxwell, Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 5, Issue 1, June 2012, Pages 66-75, ISSN 1755-2966, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2012.03.002.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296612000099)
6. Anika Frühauf, Martin Niedermeier, Lewis R. Elliott, Larissa Ledochowski, Josef Marksteiner, Martin Kopp, Acute effects of outdoor physical activity on affect and psychological well-being in depressed patients – A preliminary study, Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 10, March 2016, Pages 4-9, ISSN 1755-2966, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2016.02.002.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296615300156)
7. Andrew M. Busch, Joseph T. Ciccolo, Ajeng J. Puspitasari, Sanaz Nosrat, James W. Whitworth, Matthew A. Stults-Kolehmainen, Preferences for exercise as a treatment for depression, Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 10, March 2016, Pages 68-72, ISSN 1755-2966, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2015.12.004.

(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296615300181)

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