There is absolutely no doubt that exercise makes us feel happier… Science has shown us that exercise causes our body to release endorphins, which naturally make us feel better. Exercise can also help us feel stronger and more comfortable in our own body, which in turn builds confidence and makes us feel happier. Added benefits come with exercising outside, as we spend time in nature, or when we exercise with friends, as we receive a social connection.
It’s just that sometimes, especially if you haven’t been feeling great, it can be really hard to start. Particularly as there is so much to choose from, which can lead to overwhelm, if we feel we need to be ‘perfect’ straight away (no one is, but a lot of us feel it), or sometimes just getting out the door (or out of bed) is difficult enough.
I have felt all these things numerous times in my life. My mantra as a swimming coach is to always ‘start where your are’. I’m not always so good at treating myself that way, however I do know that I can’t ask someone who is afraid of the water to get in and swim immediately, nor can I treat a skilled swimmer as though they are a beginner. Understanding and accepting exactly where you are, although tricky to do for yourself, is an important first step.
As this is a happiness blog not a fitness blog, my purpose here is to simply explore the idea that exercise can help you feel happier. So the other part of my mantra is “you can do anything, as long as you do something”. What do I mean by this? Exercise can be anything! 15 minutes is all it takes to improve your happiness in some way. And if you can’t do 15 minutes, start with 1 or 2 minutes, and aim to build up to 15 when you can. The important thing is to just start.
You will need to find a mindset balance here. Try and do something every day, make a commitment to yourself, and show yourself that you value yourself by keeping that commitment. (I hope that makes sense!) BUT remember, if you miss a day don’t worry… Don’t beat yourself up. This can be a real trap, If you let the guilt of missing a day lead to missing more days you have defeated yourself. Just let it go, and start again the next day.
It’s also important to set your intention around happiness. If you take away the pressure of exercise needing to be anything other than fun, and simply enjoy it, then you will find whatever you choose will improve your happiness.
Easy Ways to Exercise for Happiness:
1. Take a walk/run
Possibly the easiest way to start exercising for happiness is to go for a walk or a run. Requiring no special equipment except comfortable clothes and some trainers, walking and running both come with the happy bonus of getting us outdoors into nature, and can easily be shared with friends.
Skipping is hard work, and takes very little time before you are completely puffed out. Start from one or two minutes and build it from there. If you can skip for 15 minutes you’ll be super fit! A good skipping rope is all you need.
3. Bounce for happiness
Trampolines are so much fun! If you have access to a trampoline, either your own (get out and bounce with your kids), or a friend or neighbour, then go out and get bouncing!
4. Climb the stairs
I personally do this on the stairs up to our flat, or the stairs along my regular walk as I love how it gets my heart beating, and the feeling of accomplishment it gives me. I started with 3 sets of 3 (20 steps) and built from there. Do it carefully of course, and only go as fast as you can manage.
5. Get on your bike
Cycling can be done at any level, from basic beginner to road racing and mountain biking. At any level it creates fun and happiness! Bikes are a fantastic way to get around, and cycling not only gets your body moving but also helps you enjoy the outdoors, AND can be done alone, or with friends. If you don’t have a bike, trying out the Just Eat Bikes, or borrow one from a neighbour of friend.
I quite like a kitchen disco. Favourite music up, grooves on, and if no one is home, a good sing at the top of my voice. It’s really fun, and all you need is your music.
7. Play Ball
Basketball and netball are fun and happy ways to enjoy physical activity. Playing a game with friends, or shooting some hoops on your own are both beneficial to your mood and happiness. A ball is required, and you can check out your local area for courts to play on.
If you have access to outdoor space then gardening is a fantastic way to get some exercise and spend time in nature, both of which will boost your happiness. Don’t worry about getting your hands dirty, just get in and have a go.
9. Get Your Skates on
I used to spend hours skating up and down our front veranda as a child growing up in Australia. It was almost a right of passage to learn to skate! I loved it…. So what are you waiting for? If you have skated before, it should be easy to pick up again… Just like riding a bike…?
Something as simple as kicking the ball around with some friends or family. You don’t have to be good (I’m not) to feel the benefits and you can have a lot of fun too. A ball is the only kit requirement, and some grass to play on helps.
As a swimming coach, I absolutely love the water. I find just getting in the water somehow washes the stress and tension away. I don’t even have to swim to feel the benefits. Cold water is apparently very good for us too, so ditch the heated pool and head on down to the beach or lake for some wild swimming.
12. Play tag
Playing tag (or tig or tiggy or chasey) is another game that gets the heart rate up really fast (if you don’t believe me, try playing tag with your kids). It’s also really fun. In fact any of the old school kids games such as hopscotch, elastics or skipping can be mood boostingly fun, and therefore improve your happiness.
13. Hula hoop
I tried the hula hoop at my local gym recently after many years of not (and not being very good at it back then), and I found, rather satisfyingly that I could do it! It was definitely the different, heavier hoop as well as some technique training from my 12 year old that made the difference. All you need is a hoop!
This is definitely a specific skill that requires learning and practice. If it’s something you fancy doing, then find someone to give you some tips, and get started. Or if skating is something you’ve done in the past, then pick it up again as a way to get moving. It will give you a sense of accomplishment, help you move your body more and therefore improve your happiness.
Less scary than a skateboard, a scooter may be a great place to start. I rode my sons scooter the other day, and it was more challenging than I expected. I used muscles I forgot I had! I suspect if I’d tried an adult sized scooter rather than a stunt scooter, I may have felt more balanced. They are a great way to get around.
By this I mean video games that get your body moving, like the Nintendo Switch Ring Fit Adventure, Wii fit Games and the XBox Kinect. If you’re into video games, why not try some that will get you moving.
There are loads of YouTube videos with beginner yoga, as well as live online and studio classes. Yoga is a complete mind body workout which incorporates breath work, quieting the mind and body poses. If yoga is for you, it not only creates a strong flexible body, (over time) but can also create a sense of happiness and calm.
18. Martial arts
There are many types of martial art to choose from. I am not an expert in any of them, however I do believe they have a philosophy of discipline in thought and movement rooted in mindfulness. Being focused and aware of our thoughts helps us make better ‘thought choices’ leading to improved emotional regulation and ultimately more happiness. Check your local area for classes.
19. Rock climbing
Rock climbing is one activity on this list that does require some specialised kit and training. Check your local area for rock climbing centres where you can try it out with the support of trained professions. The sense of accomplishment, the sheer effort needed to haul yourself up a rock face, as well as the excitement (or fear) of doing it can only help boost your happiness.
20. Climb a tree
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t climbed a tree for a long time… I do remember it being really fun, and a bit of a right of passage as a child in the 80’s. There are some giant trees set up with ladders and harnesses, and even walkways (I’m thinking of Southern Western Australia… This was probably the last time I climbed a tree.) But of course all you really need is comfy clothes, a tree and a sense of adventure!
Circus skills are really challenging and can be good for our whole self, improving coordination, balance and strength as well as just being fun. Whether you’re interested in learning simple juggling or getting fully into acrobatics, there will be a circus skill to suit you. All you need to start is a set of juggling balls, and a YouTube video.
22. Living room workouts
There is so much inspiration on YouTube for ways we can move our bodies to improve our fitness (and therefore happiness) in our own home using stuff we already have! Of course there is plenty of kit you can buy, but you really don’t need to, a couple of cans of beans can be used as light weights if you’re just getting started!
This list is far from exhaustive, there are many many ways to use your body and get moving to improve your happiness. In this post I wanted to demonstrate a variety of different ways we can get active, from simple activities that require no equipment and are available to everyone, like walking or climbing stairs, to more complex and skilled activities like rock climbing or skating.
Of course the sky is the limit, whether you like fencing, ballet, horse riding, going to your local gym classes or getting a personal trainer to kick your bum, the key is to start where you are, choose something fun for you, and go for it!
Good Luck. You can do it!