Want to become more optimistic? Try playing tennis. Or walking a dog. Or go dancing.
Supposedly if you run enough miles, you become addicted to running due to endorphins, the brain chemicals that lead to pleasure. I’ve never gotten close to this experience as a runner, but research shows that even exercising just a couple of times a week can transform your attitude.
In one study I discussed in The Happiness Advantage and originally published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000, researchers separated 156 adult volunteers with major depressive disorders into three groups: One group took antidepressant medication, one group exercised for 45 minutes three times a week, and one group did both. After four months, all three groups saw equal improvements in their moods. But after six months, remarkable differences emerged. Thirty-eight percent of people in the group who only took medication fell back into depression. Of those in the group who both took medication and exercised, 31 percent relapsed. But among those who exercised only, the relapse rate was a mere 8 percent.
Their decrease in depression resulted from the conscious choice to create a positive habit.
You don’t have to be depressed for exercise to make a positive impact. Whether it’s going for a walk a few times a week after work or training to become an American Ninja Warrior, start exercising. You’ll soon feel happier, more efficient and more productive, which will lead to greater opportunities. Your legs and lungs will be stronger, and so will your optimism.
This article appears in the February 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.