Exhortations to be more physically active are all around, but in modern daily life, sitting seems to have become the natural state of a human being – and it may be killing us (or at least, the New York Times asked “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?“).
Physical activity is one of the most natural acts of a living being. Our particular human way of moving on two legs is a characteristic that may have made our species. It is also one of the best examples of the simple things that make happy (and that we often overlook).
Thinking of children, it becomes quite apparent that walking and running are peculiar ways of moving; “the first steps” are a major, well, step, in the course of a young life. It’s also rather obvious that there is a pleasure in simply moving around. Of course, there are also quieter children, but kids typically enjoy moving: walking, running, jumping, climbing, rolling…
It was this very example that a psychological concept similar to flow originally came from, the German “Funktionslust:” the fun of playfully doing and repeating an action, not with a particular purpose, but simply for the heck of it (which, of course, would ultimately serve the purpose of learning to control your own body and learning how your environment reacts to your actions).
Connections, of course, play a deep role.
In situations where it is near-impossible to walk, and when you otherwise just have to get somewhere quickly – starting with the rush to schools in which kids are then told to sit still – you start to move less of your own. Once health problems, to which overweight can be a major contributor, start to set in, running around is not so much fun anymore.
It is very important, though, to realize that the act of moving makes happy. This does not necessarily mean “real” sports.
Going for a relaxed walk is enough to do something good for one’s health. In fact, as the “inactivity studies” described in the New York Times article have been finding out, there is a health (and certainly a body weight) difference even between people who fidget more in their daily life than others who really sit still when they sit.
From the same field of studies, it is also known that hitting the gym a few times a week while otherwise just sitting does less for one’s health than forgetting about the gym, but being more active in everyday life.
The happiness gained from moving is not just a matter of sports and health, either.
You can be slightly overweight and fit – and people like that tend to live longer than those who are not as fit – and you can enjoy a walk in the park either way. That example is a particularly good one also because it is not yet sports, but just motion – and has a great effect on mood (to the point that moderate exercise is seen as a powerful anti-depressant). It is also in green surroundings, which also affect our health and feelings of well-being positively.
Both can be separated – a scenic, relaxed drive also has a calming effect; running on a gym treadmill also helps with health and positive feelings.
The effects of both together more than add up, though: blood pressure is reduced, the cardiovascular system is improved, mood gets better – you can even get more creative and more “at home” from moving around where you live, especially (but by no means only) in green surroundings. You also get a chance to socialize, e.g. going for a walk with a partner, to explore and become more aware of your surroundings, whether just to discover the neighborhood or go looking for wild plants to use.
Getting up and going only suffers from one drawback, shared among most of the things that make happy: it will take a bit more energy to get started than sitting down in front of the TV with some junk food does. However, it will be considerably better for you.
It may not even feel like it at first, while just contemplating it, though. That, too, was looked at in a study: even people who thought they wouldn’t feel better going for a walk did feel better afterwards, but it took a push to get them off their asses…
That is, indeed, one of the typical problems we are increasingly having: we think too much about all the things we should be doing. We have many desires, wishes and obligations; many voices pull us in different directions, not least the siren calls of comfort and the easy happiness of consumption.
What we need to do is to think less sometimes, and just get up and move. When the situation is such that you feel like running away from it anyways, do get away from it, at least for a while. It will be better for you, and for “the planet.”