What is the point of exercise and healthy eating? Ultimately, the answer is happiness. Happiness in achieving hard-fought goals, happiness with our physique, happiness with reduced health risks and happiness in terms of the inner peace acquired through the process of discipline and the resulting element of control.
Some may think that happiness is found in money and social status, but research reveals that money, age, gender, income, race, education and social status exert little influence on happiness. However, if we rest the success of happiness on factors that do not influence the ability achieve the goal, then on what does this concept of human happiness rest?
It turns out that the answer is similar to the answer for escaping obesity. Last week we discussed genetic predispositions toward obesity. And while we may see family trends in obesity, we should not fall victim to the notion that a choice of fitness and ultimate happiness is beyond our grasp.
Destiny is very much within our reach. No matter what genetic predisposition we possess, we make choices about exercise and healthy eating. The same principle applies to happiness. Though genetics exerts some influence on happiness or misery, we can choose to be happy.
In fact, we are born with the genetic makeup to be "very happy, or reasonably content, or chronically dissatisfied." Neurophysiologists have discovered that higher levels of activity on the left side of the brain's prefrontal lobes coincide with positive emotions, and that these positive emotions seem to be a result of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
As with many other characteristics of human behavior, scientists estimate that half of a person's mood derives from what they call the happiness "set-point." Depending on one's genes, a person may have a natural enthusiasm for life, deriving pleasure from ordinary activities, or he may require unusual adventures, white-knuckle thrills (such as those engaged in extreme sports).
The fact of life, though, is that regardless of what makes you happy, after the initial high you return to your happiness set-point.
Some good news for those of us who happen to be on the lower end of the happiness quotient: 1) luckily this "set-point" is more of a range than a point; 2) this set-point probably only accounts for 50% of happiness. That means you can influence through conscious choices whether you will be happy or not.
Learning to take responsibility for that 50% can have a major effect on the health and success of your entire life. Exercise and healthy eating are a big part of the prescription for happiness.
The Six Areas Of Discipline
#1 - Be optimistic and learn to control your emotions.
A plethora of sages from the Stoics to modern cognitive psychologists have emphasized the importance of overcoming unfulfilled wants, dashed expectations, loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and guilt by focusing on things one can change, not what is beyond one's control.
Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi emphasizes that a human being is most happy when that person's mind or body is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Achieving a fit physique can be part of achieving happiness.
These include: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and the beta-endorphins, which are known to have positive effects on mood and the
immune system. So choosing superior fitness as a goal has some automatic physiological rewards that encourage happiness.
carbohydrates have a positive tranquilizing effect on the body by stimulating the brain's production of serotonin, too much of a good thing is bad. In particular, simple sugars create such a high level of blood sugar that too much
insulin is produced by the body, so that the high boost of energy is followed by a dramatic lull in energy.
In addition, much of this excess of sugar may be stored as fat-hardly the goal of baby boomers! The answer is to avoid candy and other junk foods and concentrate on complex carbs, particularly those from vegetables and low-calorie fruits.
This will result in a sustained level of serotonin levels. So proper nutrition, including a moderate amount of carbohydrates, has automatic physiological rewards (serotonin) and psychic rewards (achieving a fit physique that one can be proud of).
Richard is susceptible to periods of depression and he deals with it in a number of ways. The best ways seem to be listening to favorite music, working out, a round of good sex, playing the clarinet (Mozart especially has a positive mood-altering affect on Richard), reading a great book, watching a favorite movie, going for a walk on the beach (this always seems to bring Richard a peace like no other activity), but above all concentrating on doing something to make someone else's day better.
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In addition, Richard attempts to keep busy so as not to reinforce the depression with rumination and to avoid behaviors that will deepen the depression, like over-eating or avoiding exercise. He realizes that the better one takes care of the body, the better it will be able to stave off depression.
We noted above the brain chemicals which are responsible for the euphoria that runners experience as the "runner's high," or that weight trainers experience with the "pump," a great start on overcoming depression! Get a positive high from exercise!
The gym is a great place to find those with similar interests that could become great friends. Interestingly enough, this need for companionship can be satisfied by humans or animals! The emotional satisfaction from connecting to another sentient being cultivates an emotional satisfaction that contributes to a sense of well-being so much so that older people who have lost a spouse are often encouraged to get a pet.
Ethical behavior, as ancient Greeks like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, taught, contributes to purpose and happiness. Recognizing the connection to other human beings and living up to the responsibilities of being part of the human family can contribute a great deal to purpose and meaning in life. Volunteer work is a great way to enjoy the satisfaction of selflessness.
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
- Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
- Seligman, Martin E.P. Learned Optimism.
Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC.
Richard Baldwin, Member. Legendary Physique, LLC.
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Copyright 2004. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.
The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.