Work Out And Eat Well To Improve Your Happiness
by ZIYA ASIA on Feb 23, 2022
We’ve long been told that if we work out and eat well, our health will improve. A simple strategy, yet something that many of us struggle to maintain at all times.
However, a new study has found that regularly exercising and eating fruit and vegetables improves our general sense of wellbeing as well, linking the “relationship between lifestyle and life satisfaction.”
Conducted by researchers at the University of Kent and the University of Reading and published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, this study set about using two simple lifestyle metrics (consuming fruit and vegetables plus participating in sports or physical exercise) to see if there was any difference in wellbeing depending on factors such as age, education, region, income or gender.
The results? While there was some variation within each category as to how positive the impact was, it was still significantly positive overall, which means that everyone can expect to enhance their happiness if they work out and eat well.
WHY CREATE THIS STUDY?
From Meat Free Mondays and Veganuary to Walk and Cycle to Work schemes, there has been a big push in the past decade or two towards lifestyle choices that not only benefit us individually but the environment as well. Yet, by changing our lifestyle and doing things we’re told will ‘do us good’, are we feeling any happier as a result?
The research team analyzed data from a longitudinal study, Understanding Society, which involved 14,159 individuals (5926 men and 8233 women) from 40,000 UK households. They were interested to see if people who ‘invested’ in their health by eating fruit and vegetables and exercising also reported positive levels of life satisfaction.
An interesting aspect of this study was the correlation between self-control and life satisfaction. People who saw the benefit of ‘paying it forward’ for their future by eating well and working out reportedly felt better about their lives than those who did whatever made them feel good in the short term (but may not necessarily be as healthy). So, this study was centered around the benefits of delayed gratification.
DELAYED GRATIFICATION: AFFECTIVE VS. DELIBERATIVE SYSTEMS
This study looked at previous research around the brain’s “dual decision model,” which involves two separate parts of the brain: the “affective” system and the “deliberative” system.
Our brains’ affective system receives sensory information, which causes us to have emotional reactions like anger or happiness. It’s also the area that relates to ‘instinctive consumption’ due to these emotions, such as comfort eating.
Our deliberative system is the part of our brains that handles abstract thinking, planning, and other higher cognitive processes. It’s the area that helps us understand the long-term consequences of our actions and be a bit more forward-thinking.
When it comes to nutrition, it’s no surprise that our affective system loves the kind of foods that give us instant gratification. A diet high in fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and meat gives us short-term pleasure but isn’t always good for us in the long term.
Alternatively, our deliberative system can recognize the benefits if we work out and eat well. It understands that by delaying the gratification, we end up boosting our health and happiness long term.
THE NEUROSCIENCE OF YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
A very relatable part of this study was how these two different parts of our brains struggle with situations such as making New Year’s resolutions. Our deliberative system essentially sets goals with good intentions, but our affective system doesn’t see the point in following through on them.
So, our resolutions are dependent on our ability to delay gratification and focus on the longer-term benefits rather than giving in to more immediate ‘temptations’. Perhaps one of the ways that we can help ourselves in the short term is by focussing on how to make healthy eating and exercise a habit so that we reap the rewards further down the line.
All in all, this research shows how much our ability to exert self-control can enhance our happiness and boost our general sense of wellbeing, which is yet another incentive to work out and eat well. After all, who wouldn’t want to feel a bit happier?
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