Today I will reveal the most powerful tool available for creating happiness, increasing health and wellbeing and combating depression, anxiety and fatigue. This ‘magic bullet’ can sharpen your mind, delay ageing and give you a body that will make you look as good as you feel! I know a lot of you out there will be jumping up and down in excited anticipation right now, which is just as well, because one of the secrets to having a happy brain is exercise! Although most people would probably class exercise as being a physical rather than a mental activity, I can guarantee that nobody gets off the sofa to go for a run without first engaging in some motivational thinking and positive self-talk!
In parts 1 and 2, I talked about the importance of noticing and being thankful for all the good things in our lives, and counting each blessing no matter small. I also emphasised the benefits of laughter, and the positive effect it has on our mood and our health. In this final part I hope to convince you that exercise really is something worth getting excited about!
You probably know already that regular aerobic exercise (the kind that makes you slightly breathless) strengthens the heart and lungs, lowers blood pressure and helps the body fight off infection. It also burns body fat whilst building lean muscle, increases bone density and helps regulate blood sugar, which in turn helps control appetite. All amazing and worthwhile benefits, I’m sure you will agree, especially if you want to maintain an ideal weight, stay active and live a long and healthy life. But what is even more remarkable is the discovery that moderate exercise not only has a direct effect upon your body, it has a positive effect on our brain. Scientists have discovered that aerobic exercise leads to the increased production of beta-endorphins. These ‘feel good’ chemicals act like natural opiates in our body, improving our mood, making us feel more optimistic and energetic and even acting like natural painkillers. Studies have shown that exercise can be more beneficial in treating some types of depression than commonly prescribed anti-depressants. Exercise also triggers the release of noradrenaline and serotonin (two neurotransmitters that are depleted when we are stressed or anxious) that elevate our mood and make us feel happy. As if all this wasn’t enough, the blood that is pumping through your body when you are hiking up that hillside will effectively ‘mop up’ the residual stress hormones that went cursing through your system when you opened your credit card bill this morning and then struggled to get the kids out of bed!
It almost seems too good to be true, and you may wonder if I’ll be telling you next that exercise is the ‘fountain of youth’ and the way to wealth and riches….. Well, actually, just last week, the National Academy of Sciences published research demonstrating that exercise was able to reduce almost all the visible and functional effects of aging in mice. This study seems to confirm what most Doctors have suspected for years that exercise no only helps prevent the common diseases that cause premature death; it also genetically programmes our cells to live longer. And just to put a cherry atop the icing on this multi layered cake, recent evidence suggests that because exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain it boosts our creativity, makes learning easier and improves memory. Scientists are finding that exercise may actually help prevent mental decline as we age.
So if you are thinking about introducing exercise into your life it’s a no brainer really! If those wonderful marketing people could come up with a pill that gave you all the health benefits of exercise that needed to be taken over 20 minutes at least four times per week, you would be queuing around the block, wallets open, to purchase this miracle drug! Luckily this is one ‘miracle’ drug that lives up to all the hype, and needn’t cost more than the price of a comfortable pair of walking boots.
I find that at Lynn Ward Hypnotherapy here in Somerset, I am constantly recommending exercise to my client’s because it benefits everybody, no matter what the problem. My weight loss clients find it speeds up their weight loss and helps to control their appetite. My anxious clients are amazed at its ability to de stress them both mentally and physically and often report they are even sleeping better. As for those clients who are experiencing depression, the hardest part is to convince them that exercise really is something that can help them. However, once they have experienced the results for themselves, it tends to become part of their ‘self-help’ system that they use every day to elevate their mood and protect against future bouts of depression.
When deciding upon a fitness programme, it is of course best to choose an exercise or sport that you enjoy and can be fitted into your daily schedule. Anything that takes place outdoors is always good, because spending time in in the fresh air really helps us connect to nature. If you walk outside each day you become aware of the progression of the seasons and the rhythm of growth, renewal and constant change. It’s a beautiful reminder that nothing ever stays the same and our natural tendency is to move from darkness to light. After the long winter months we have all experienced hibernating indoors, exercising outside can lift our mood and give us a well needed boost of vitamin D. So try walking the kids to school instead of driving, borrow a dog, or get on your bike!
Dancing, be it ballroom, Latin or Tap, is a fantastic way to raise your heartbeat whilst raising a smile, and who has time to think about the cares and worries of life when you are executing the perfect fandango! If you haven’t been to the gym for a while, you may be pleasantly surprised at the variety and scope of exercise classes now on offer(Spandex strictly optional) so why not give some of them a try?
As with most things in life, the hardest thing about exercise is getting started, and that motivation always begins in your head. Write a list of all the things you want to achieve by exercising. Visualise yourself one year from now, having made regular aerobic activity a part of your life. What benefits will you be noticing, how will you look, how good will you feel? Start thinking of exercise as being something enjoyable that is worth scheduling time for. If possible pal up with a fellow novice – you’re much more likely to turn up for that Zumba class if you are meeting a friend there. I tell my clients that if they are really finding it a struggle to get off the sofa, they should tell themselves they only have to do ‘it’ for five minutes, then, if they then want to return to the sofa, they have permission to do so. Of course by just ‘doing it’ they have made a start, and as soon as those happy hormones are firing they don’t want to stop!
When your workout is over, and you are experiencing that wonderful post exercise euphoria, take a moment to notice how good you feel. Really focus on the pleasant tiredness of well worked muscles compared to the tightness that was there before. Notice how your thoughts are so much more calming and positive. Feel that sense of pride in yourself. If you are keeping a ‘happiness journal’ (How to Think Your Way to Happiness Part 1) write about how good you feel; reading this will give you further motivation when you need it.
How many times have you berated yourself for not getting sufficient exercise? Now think back to the times when you have just got up and done it. Did you ever find yourself saying “I wish I had stayed on the sofa instead?” So go on, give it a try and make exercise the happy habit you are addicted to.
I hope you have found the information contained within How to Think Your Way to Happiness useful, and I encourage you to follow the advice given so that you can begin the process of reprogramming your brain to follow a more positive and joyful neural pathway!
The subject of Happiness, which encompasses feelings of contentment, self-belief and inner peace is obviously too vast an area to cover in three blogs. However I hope these little snippets of information have whetted your appetite for more. The mind is a fascinating subject, and as a clinical hypnotherapist I strive every day to help my client’s gain control over wayward and unhelpful thought patterns and negative mindsets. In the future I will be sharing with you lots more tips on how to master the elusive art of thought control so that we can live better in the present and create our chosen future.
Until next time, happy thinking!