by Dr. Hojat Askari, Medical Director, Thumb Butte Medical Center
Everybody is looking for happiness and good health, but few realize how closely they are connected.
Studies have shown that just acting happy by smiling can improve your immune response, blood pressure and other important markers of health. People who report they are happy with their lives are more likely to eat nutritious diets, be physically active, sleep well and live longer.
Happiness means something a little different to everyone, but there are many ways you can cultivate it in your life, both mentally and physically.
Research has tied the physical act of smiling, whether it’s sincere or faked, to improved immune function.
One of the most commonly suggested tactics is to remember everything you’ve been grateful for over the course of your life, keeping a gratitude journal if it helps you to keep up the habit. You can write down three things you’re grateful for in the evening or remind yourself on a continual basis over the course of your day.
Another approach is to simply savor each moment you are living in, without letting your mind stray to the past or the hypothetical future. Known as mindfulness, this brings your attention to the sights, sounds and sensations of your current environment. It frees you from the anxiety that comes from a past you wish had been different, a current anxiety, or a worry about the future with all its unknowns.
Research has tied the physical act of smiling, whether it’s sincere or faked, to improved immune function. One study theorizes it’s because more endorphins are being released, making you more relaxed and allowing your immune cells to circulate more easily. Smiling also releases serotonin and natural painkillers, a triple threat to anxiety and negativity.
Nearly all forms of exercise are associated with improved mood, especially when done outside. Cardio exercise like running, hiking, jumping rope, cycling or other activities that raise your heart and breathing rate. In one analysis of 36 different studies done with senior citizens, all aspects of well-being were found to increase with moderate-intensity cardio exercise, including level of overall happiness.