We are told from a young age that eating our greens and maintaining an active lifestyle is great for us physically - it’s a bit of a no-brainer. However, research has confirmed that doing both can actually make us happier as well. This is something many of us will like to hear as the gloomier seasons of 2021 approach.
General correlations have been made around eating well, exercising and our overall well being, but the study (opens in new tab) conducted by the University of Kent and University of Reading has been able to prove cause and effect between health behaviours and happiness.
The researchers found that our ability to exercise self control and push back gratification – i.e. choosing fruit over a sugary chocolate bar or going for a run (in a pair of best running shoes for men or best running shoes for women, naturally) - can change the neural pathways of our brain. And when we create healthier behaviours we should see an increase in life-satisfaction.
One of the researchers, Dr Gschwandtner stated, “Behavioural nudges that help the planning self to reinforce long-term objectives are likely to be especially helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she added, “If a better lifestyle not only makes us healthier but also happier, then it is a clear win-win situation.”
Once we begin to put off exercise and opt for the convenience of junk food, which will often be high in saturated fats, we can make a habit of this and train our brains to encourage unhealthy habits. A 2020 study (opens in new tab) found that the pleasure center part of our brain, which produces dopamine, and the brain’s biological clock are linked, and the calorific foods which bring us pleasure, disrupt our eating schedules causing us to overeat.
The unwanted bloat or sluggish feeling after overindulging in rich food does not make for optimal feelings of happiness. That’s why choosing a diet rich in fruit and veg and regularly exercising is better for optimal life satisfaction, as opposed to adopting more impulsive habits.
The first study also found that men seemed to exercise more while women were better at eating more fruit and vegetables. If you can boss one of the two then you are halfway there. But to really find out if your happiness can be boosted by eating well and exercising then there are ways to help.
Perhaps you just don’t know how to include enough greens into your day to day meals and what better diet to assist with this than a plant-based one. You don’t have to religiously subscribe to the diet but a copy of the best vegan cookbook will provide inspiration for veggie rich meals.
Alternatively, if exercise is something you don’t enjoy, just remember that there are many options out there for keeping fit. Taking yourself on a long walk counts just as much as completing a sweaty HIIT workout to boost your mood (whcih you can find below), or lifting weights at the gym.
Watch: our follow-along HIIT workout guaranteed to boost your mood
Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition.
When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.
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