By Danielle Dufayet, C.N.C.
What’s on your mind when you are at the gym? Are you worried about the economy, stewing over some past argument or watching the news about murders and terrorism? Bogged down with negative thinking, you may not be reaping all the benefits of your precious time and hard work. And you most certainly are not making your workout any easier.
Why not give your brain something positive to concentrate on while exercising? Not only will you have more energy and stamina, you’ll be pumping out an extra dose of those feel-good endorphins you naturally get from exercise. You’ll feel centered, empowered, and happy for the rest of the day. It’s an opportunity to benefit the total you in body, mind, and spirit.
Below are twelve mental strategies that will get you feeling happy while your body is getting lean, fit, and strong. Try them all and feel even more fabulous during and after your workouts lasting all day long! So while you’re jogging on the treadmill or cycling on the stationary bike, here are 12 things you can do to feel healthier and happier:
Look out a window and look at nature. Most of us are nature deprived. Nature has healing powers. We need nature to feed our souls and feel connected to our roots. Appreciate the earth and how beautiful it is and how it provides you with fresh oxygen, water, and food. Marvel at the subtle differences of colors and the shapes of flowers and trees. Appreciation can make us feel relaxed and calm. This will lower cortisol the “fight or flight” hormone freeing up more energy for your workout. An appreciative heart is a happy, energized heart.
Compliment others. If you see someone really working out hard, compliment them out loud or silently in your head. You’ll be amazed at the boost you feel if it’s sincere. Look at everyone at the gym as one big team all working for the same goal: health, fitness, strength, beauty, longevity, etc. Cheer for your teammate and you’ll instantly feel connected. This will release endogenous opiods which are the same molecules that are implicated in social bonding and parental love. Studies show that showing support for others seems to slow the aging process even more than receiving love. The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (Cleveland, Ohio) did a study on the benefits of altruism.(1) They found that feelings of selfless love significantly increased immunity among the study group.
Watch only positive TV shows. That means no watching negative news! (even if you want to catch up with world events—do it later) Have some fun experimenting by gauging your energy level while you are listening to stories about murder, unemployment rates, terrorist attacks, or the war, and compare it with how you feel when watching a funny talk show or some musical entertainment. Humor is especially good at releasing serotonin, the feel-good hormone which keeps depression at bay.
Think of the people you love and treasure. Dwell on someone in particular and think about their uniqueness and why they’re special to you. I usually think about my children or my husband. Of course I feel a tremendous amount of love for them. The HeartMath Institute (Boulder Creek, California) did a study on teaching people to feel love at will.(2) They practiced this exercise a few times a day. Their findings showed that those people’s level of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)—an anti-aging hormone—increased by fifty percent after six months. After nine months, their levels increased by ninety percent.
Listen to empowering music. We all know the power of music. Pick something up-beat and positive (no negative rap no matter how good the beat is). Choose music that makes you feel empowered too (I like upbeat new age music like Wah! or rhythmic Native American music.) If you’re into lyrics, pick something that has a positive message. Feeling empowered will promote feelings of courage and power to follow you for the rest of the day.
Read with the intention to learn something new. If you’re going to read, ditch the gossip magazines and make it a point to learn one new piece of information on something positive like a new antioxidant that’s great for the heart, or a new discovery in science that will revolutionize the way we communicate, or how to better manage our finances to live more comfortably. Make it a goal to learn one new word while you’re at it. Pick one word you’ve never seen before and make a mental note to look it up in the dictionary when you get home. You’ll feel smarter, which will boost your confidence and self image.
Think about a happy experience and relive it while you are exercising. For example I think of holding my new little grandson. As I picture clutching his warm little body against mine, I can feel my heart swelling with love. I suddenly notice I can run or pedal just a little bit faster and just a little bit longer. Whatever positive image you can hold in your mind’s eye will give you a boost of energy and if you can add the feelings of love into the picture, you may be lowering your cholesterol too! A study was done in 2007 in Human Communication Research magazine in which subjects wrote down feelings for a loved one in 20 minute sessions 3 times a day for 5 weeks.(3) Their subjects showed a significant reduction of bad cholesterol and increased immunity by decreasing stress.
Feel compassion. Caring for others is a positive emotion that can liberate energy and greatly contribute to your health by increasing relaxation and endorphin release. When you feel love, the electromagnetic signal produced by the heart is registered in the brain waves of people around you. Visualize how that might look and rejoice in the power of a single positive thought! Researchers on human happiness identify compassionate service to others as one of the key traits shared by many of the world’s happiest people.(4)
Celebrate that you are alive and that you are taking responsibility for the quality of your life. When you celebrate your aliveness you feel more alive, thus, your body responds by acting more alive giving you the energy and strength you need for a better work out.
Think about a creative project you may have been putting off. During exercise the subconscious mind is more open to spontaneous creativity. And, if you’re walking or running, you are using the right side and the left side of the brain (the creative and emotional on the right and the logical and analytical on the left). Take advantage of this physiological phenomenon and let your creative juices flow. Make sure you have a pencil and notepad beside you, you could be inspired to write the screenplay or children’s book you have always wanted to write. That inspiration will fuel your soul, lift your spirits, and put a little extra bounce in your step.
Smile. The more you smile, the more you think you’re happy. The more you think you’re happy, the more you’ll actually feel happy. The muscles used in smiling send a message to the brain which then releases the happy hormone, serotonin.
Count your blessings. If you have ten minutes left on the treadmill think of ten things you are grateful for and spend one minute on each one. In no particular order, I may start with my husband or my daughter, son or grandson. Then I’ll go down my list of close friends. I give thanks for my health, my various interests that give me joy such as painting and writing, the last really good meal I had, or the last really good book I read and so on and so on. A grateful heart is a happy heart and we all know a happy heart makes for a better everything—even a vigorous workout that pushes the limits!
Danielle Dufayet, C.N.C., works as a certified nutrition and lifestyle counselor.
1. Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, Cleveland, Ohio.
2. Rollin McCraty, M.A., et.al. “The Impact of a New Emotional Self-Management Program on Stress, Emotions, Heart Rate Variability, DHEA and Cortisol.” HeartMath Institute.
3. Human Communication Research magazine 2007, 33:119-142.
4. Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D. The Art of Happiness, New York, NY: Riverhead Books; 1998.