I was asked to write a blog with this title and in my enthusiasm to find an answer to the question, I confess I maaaaay not have properly scrolled down and read the whole brief. I just blundered on, looking through research and, after rejecting my initial bright idea of winning the lottery, the evidence seemed to point to one clear answer. It turns out it wasn’t the ‘right’ answer, they were hoping for an article on the benefits of gratitude. However, even after researching gratitude, I think I was right the first time. See what you think.
The title of this blog does make me feel a little like a snake-oil salesman, making impossibly grandiose promises. But let’s face it, if like me, you’re deep in a post-Brexit pit of gloom and despair, then anything that can offer a healthier, happier and more successful life is worth a try.
So what is this magic bullet? A tablet, an injection, a form of therapy. No, it’s just exercise.
Don’t groan and click away. Exercise is more than just a way to burn off calories. It can lift your mood, improve your health and even boost your brain function. Is that worth hauling your ass off the sofa for?
Exercise and mood
Have you noticed that a run or a session at the gym can make you forget the tensions and traumas of the day? Exercise is the best stress-buster there is. It acts in many different ways to protect our bodies and minds from psychological stress. Sport can provide a time of release and distraction from problems at work or home and provides some time and space to heal.
Physical activity can also stimulate the release of the body’s happy hormones, endorphins, which decrease pain, give a sense of wellbeing and help us get the sleep we need. They’re like our own safe, in-built opiate.
But it’s not just this feel-good hormone that is boosted by exercise. Exercise may also raise the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin has a significant effect on mood and most modern antidepressants work by upping its levels, so exercise can work in the same way as antidepressants. Indeed, research has shown that exercise significantly boosts mood and decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety (1). So much so that The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends exercise as a strategy for treating mild clinical depression. Exercise all improves mood in people who aren’t depressed, so what are you waiting for?(2)
Exercise and health
This one’s a no brainer. We all know that regular exercise can protect us from obesity and any number of chronic diseases including hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It may also help protect our brain’s from dementia as we grow older.
Research also shows that physical fitness also appears to protect us against stress and stress-related chronic diseases. Exercise can dissipate the biochemical and physical changes caused by the release of stress hormones. This can decrease the blood pressure and ease muscular tension. Making you feel better in body and in mind.(3)
Exercise and success
What is success? Is it achieving a favourable outcome? Gaining wealth, fame or eminence or simply doing well and progressing in your career?
Unless you are a professional athlete or a Victoria’s Secret model then exercise alone is unlikely to garner you fame and fortune. However, research suggests that regular physical activity can improve your mental function, help you deal effectively with stress at work and even be more tolerant and responsive to those you work with.
Exercise appears to improve the brain’s ability to adapt to changes throughout the working life, which can improve mood and cognitive function. In periods of tension, those who exercised less frequently reported over a third more stress symptoms than those who exercised regularly
In research, people who were physically fit had greater ability to focus, improved confidence and greater capacity to follow through on tasks. Studies have shown that people who exercised 3-4 times a week “work performance was consistently higher, time management skills improved, as did mental sharpness”.
It’s not difficult to see how these positive attributes could translate into improved performance and a better career trajectory and the evidence shows that most CEOs exercise regularly to stay sharp, control stress, improve their performance and feel better.(4)(5)
If you’re feeling sluggish, sad or stuck in a rut then start making changes now. By increasing your fitness and incorporating regular exercise into your life you can be happier, healthier and more successful- and no snake-oil required.
Which makes me think I should maybe get off my computer and into the gym. It could improve my focus and understanding and ensure I write the right article, at the first time of asking!
Find out more:
- How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs (J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399) Simon N. Young