The Correlation Between Fitness and Happiness, Part 1

people wearing running shoes

There is a measurable correlation between physical fitness and happiness. Statistical studies show that more physically active people report higher levels of life satisfaction

The Correlation Between Fitness and Happiness, Part 1
Physical Exercise

Now, and this is a disclaimer I feel is necessary to avoid offending some people’s circumstances and sensitivities. This article, the science, and any propositions in it are directed at people who are physically able to exercise but don’t for reasons other than significant psychological or physical limitations. 

I’ll reiterate that this post concerns people whose lifestyle choices need to change to become healthier and stronger. 


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Fitness

Before I proceed, let’s look at the definition of fitness to justify the positions put forth in this article. 

The dictionary offers three main descriptions of fitness:

  • 1) The condition of being physically fit and healthy.
  • “disease and lack of fitness are closely related.”
  • 2) The quality of being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task.
  • “he had a year in which to establish his fitness for the office.”
  • 3) In biology: an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment. “if sharp teeth increase fitness, then genes causing teeth to be sharp will increase in frequency.”

And Wikipedia describes fitness as “a state of health and well-being and, more specifically, the ability to perform aspects of sports, occupations and daily activities. Physical fitness is generally achieved through proper nutrition, moderate-vigorous physical exercise, and sufficient rest along with a formal recovery plan.”

I’ll continue with these descriptions for the sake of the conclusion I intend to present here. 

There is a measurable relationship between physical activity and emotional well-being.
Being physically active

The Science 

A study published by the University of Michigan in 2018 shows a possible causal connection between physical fitness and happiness. The study titled A Systematic Review of the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Happiness proposes that “as little as 10-min physical activity per week or 1 day of doing exercise per week might result in increased levels of happiness.”

“The randomized controlled trials mostly focused on older adults and cancer survivors, and suggested that both aerobic exercise and stretching/balancing exercise were effective in improving happiness.”

The University of Michigan, Journal of Happiness Studies.

Other findings from neuroscience, and neurochemistry, to be more specific, show that physical activity promotes the release of endorphins into the bloodstream. 

That feeling of accomplishment we get after a good workout is, in part, the result of a dopamine rush into the brain. And these chemical reactions brought on by physical exercise have profound psychological effects. 

“Movement itself primes you to connect with others. That’s just the brain chemistry of it. When you get your heart rate up, when you use your body, when you engage your muscles, it changes your brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier to connect with others and bond, trust other people. It enhances social pleasures like a high five, laughing or a hug.”

Health psychologist Dr Kelly McGonigal.

And we need to consider the psychological implications of the relationship between physical fitness and emotional well-being because the reasons for inactivity can often be psychological. 

Part 2 of this article will address happiness’s proper definition to clarify this correlation. For now, I leave you with one critical question. 

How can we motivate people to be more active in a world with so many incentives to sit in front of a screen for extended amounts of time? 

Thank you for reading.

— Coach José

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