Category Archives: Health

Why Losing Weight Doesn’t Bring Happiness

Image courtesy of sattva/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sattva/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m forever trying to lose those 10 extra pounds. But a recent study shows that I shouldn’t worry about it so much.

We all grew up with the myth that if our thighs weren’t slapping together and we could fit into that pair of skinny jeans or wear a bikini again, we’d be SO much happier.

Think again. Although there are reasons to watch our weight – like improving our health – it turns out chasing after happiness shouldn’t be one of them.

According to a recent survey for So Fabulous, a plus-size clothing line from the U.K.-based retailer Littlewoods.com, losing weight doesn’t necessarily make you happier. The survey asked 2,000 women about their current size, happiness, and body confidence. Researchers discovered that 49 percent of those whose weight had fluctuated in the past few years were happiest at a size 12 to 14. Fifty-two percent of size 2-4 women would prefer to be curvier. In addition, women who wore smaller sizes (2-8) were more critical of their bodies than those women who wore larger sizes.

Even more startlingly, according to a new study from the online journal, Plos One, researchers found those who slimmed down were 80 percent more likely to be depressed.

Should this come as a big surprise? Maybe not.

As a society, we tend to admire all those super skinny celebrities. But are they happy? How often do we read about their addiction problems, painful divorces, serial cheater husbands, and miserable lives? However, we often push those facts aside as we diligently imitate their latest crazy fad diets and weight loss methods.

“It’s not the external achievement of some goal that’s going to make us happy,” says clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. “You think that will automatically change your life in some meaningful way, but it could be that your life pretty much remains the same.”

Let’s face it. Happiness doesn’t—nor should it—depend on your weight. Your spirituality, finding purpose in life, your relationships with loved ones, and your overall health are much more important. These are the keys to finding joy, fulfillment, and happiness.

Most of us are aware of that fact, but can’t seem to quit striving after that perfect number in our heads. Even if the constant stress of dieting and depriving ourselves of foods that we enjoy makes us cranky and then depressed when we inevitably gain those 10 pounds back.

This obsession reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, Lonesome Dove, when  Gus McCrae tells a prostitute who thinks if she can only get to San Francisco, she’ll be happy: “If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.”

I’m not suggesting drinking buttermilk or seeking out feisty gentlemen, but hopefully, by now we’re older and wiser. Most of us have watched our weight yo-yo over the years and know that skinny doesn’t always equal happy.

Don’t get me wrong. I still would like to lose those extra 10 pounds (or maybe it’s more like 15 now). But that’s because I’m aware of the health benefits, not because I want the perfect body or because I think losing weight is the key to enjoying life.

And if I never lose those extra pounds, well, I can live with that.

The Connection Between Health and Happiness

Image courtesy of marin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

Image courtesy of marin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

Everyone knows there’s a link between health and happiness. I know, duh, right?

However, there’s a bit of a twist you may not be aware of, which I’ll discuss in a bit.

First, let’s talk briefly about the connection between health and happiness. No doubt, you already know that if you remain healthy and physically strong, you’ll be happier. And you’re probably aware that since negative emotions harm the body, a positive, optimistic, and happy outlook on life will help your physical health.

For example, a 2012 review by Harvard School of Public Health researchers published in the journal Psychological Bulletin looked over the results of more than 200 studies and found a connection between positive psychological attributes, such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.

All the more reason to take care of yourself physically by eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising as well as having a positive attitude – especially as you age. By the way, if you want a pep talk to help you get you off the couch and start exercising, check out my blog, How Exercise Makes You Happier.

But want to hear something surprising?

While it’s true that good health is a major predictor of happiness, studies have shown that people in poor health – including those with life-threatening illnesses like cancer – are often happy as well.

I know – watchu talking ‘bout Willis, right? I was as surprised as you.

A study that appeared in the Journal of Happiness Studies a couple of years ago found this was the case, excluding those whose daily lives are disrupted by their condition, such as people with chronic severe pain or urinary incontinence. Psychiatrist Bryan Bruno, MD, Chairman in the Department of Psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says many people adapt remarkably well to changes in their health status as long as the decline is not too rapid. The exception to the rule is people with a history of depression or anxiety.

Why is this good news for baby boomers?

These studies show that people can adapt to health impairments that often come with old age. So if you’re one of those people who worry excessively about the inevitable health declines that accompany old age – stop stressing out so much!

As a matter of fact, getting old may not be as bad as you think it will be. A recent Pew study found a sizable gap between the expectations that young and middle-aged adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older Americans themselves. People in the study generally reported feeling happy, touting the many of the benefits of growing old. The list included having more time to be with their families, traveling, volunteering, and enjoying hobbies, as well as more financial security, less stress, and having fun with their grandchildren.

So as the famous song says, “Don’t worry, be happy.” And in the meantime, stay healthy and happy so you can enjoy life to the fullest.

How Exercise Makes You Happier

stretching_and_exercising_205630Want to find your bliss? We can’t discuss happiness and not talk about the importance of regular exercise. You knew it was coming sooner or later, right?

True, 20 minutes on the treadmill doesn’t solve all of life’s problems, but endorphins produced by exercise can help you feel happier by reducing stress and anxiety and lessening feelings of sadness or depression.

Being active and feeling strong naturally helps you feel more self-confident and sure of yourself which can help open doors to all kinds of possibilities.

Exercise helps increase metabolism and builds muscle mass, helping to burn more calories. Who doesn’t want that? When your body reaches a healthy weight, your overall wellness and outlook on life improves.

If all that weren’t enough, a healthy, active lifestyle can help prevent or substantially slow down a number of health issues that pop up as we age such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis, as well as muscle and joint pain.

So you would think us baby boomers would be all over this exercise thing, right? After all, our generation of bell bottoms and tie dye isn’t taking old age lying down. We’ve all seen commercials of those ambitious, fit, gray-haired boomers pedaling bikes uphill, lacing up their sneakers and heading to the gym, jogging, and shooting jump shots.

Not so fast. What is a surprise is how many boomers are not physically active. While we boomers have our share of active go-getters, they do not make up the majority. Not by a long shot.

A whopping 78% of men and women over 40 do not have a consistent fitness routine. In fact, in spite of medical advances, members of the baby boomer generation are actually in worse health than their parents were at the same stage of life, according to research reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Shocking, isn’t it? Not exactly how we want to think of ourselves.

Oh I know, us boomers have a million excuses, myself included. We have demanding jobs, discouraging health problems, a slowing metabolism, and hormonal changes. Some of us are caring for aging parents, raising teens, or dealing with our young adult children who are moving back home due to the economy. We’re concerned about injuries or falls. We’re just plain tired.

Before you throw in the towel though, let’s talk about how much physical activity we need to stay fit.

We’re not talking about hours of pumping iron in a gym or running a marathon to achieve the benefits I listed above. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week (or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week) Add a muscle-strengthening activity two days a week for a complete package.

Okay, so visualize a life where you can easily travel, play with your grandchildren, and participate in sports, hobbies, and interests without the restrictions of chronic illnesses brought on by being a couch potato. Picture a life without swallowing cholesterol and high blood pressure pills every day and saving money on medication.

Since study after study shows that staying fit is the key to an energetic and fun-filled life during our 50s, and beyond, don’t you think that type of freedom, independence, happiness, and adventure is worth just 30 minutes a day five days a week?

Okay, so there’s your pep talk. It’s time. Get off that couch and get moving!