A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (summarised in The Times on Tuesday of this week) reports a remarkable connection between your outlook on life and and your levels of physical activity. More precisely, the more meaningful you believe your life to be, the more energetically you will walk, the stronger your grip and the less chronic pain you will suffer.
Researchers from University College, London found that people who saw the things they did as being worthwhile were healthier as they aged, with higher levels of vitamin D and lower levels of cholestrol.
Those with a 'happiness' rating of 9 or 10 walked 18 per cent faster than those who gave themselves a score of 0 - 3, and had a 13 per cent higher concentration of Vitamin D (which boosts bone and muscle strength). They were 40 per cent more likely to report sleeping well and had stronger hand grips (an important indicator of frailty and the risk of mortality).
Four years later, they were significantly less likely to have developed chronic pain, depression, or feel lonely. They were more likely to exercise, spend time with friends and family, and work or volunteer.
Obviously, the report raises a number of questions; do these people feel more optimistic and engage more in life because of being naturally healthier, or is that positive outlook that leads to their walking more briskly ? And what about the many people who have no choice but to pursue stressful jobs which deliver little satisfaction ?
The answer is probably that the two factors almost certainly feed off one another, reminding us of the intimate relationship between physical health and mental health. But it is also worth remembering that even if you are stuck in a stressful job that delivers little in the way of satisfaction, you are always free to change your attitude. I never ask any of my clients to make wholesale changes in their lives, just asking what the next small step will be. And a small change of outlook, finding satisfaction in the smallest detail of an otherwise humdrum day - maybe a chat over a cup of coffee - can lead over time to remarkable mental and physical benefits.