Have you ever seen someone practically skipping down the sidewalk, exuding absolute joy? Did you ever think to yourself Wow, that person’s life must be great? Did you ever wish you had some of whatever that person possessed?
While it would be reasonable to assume that these Mary Poppins types of individuals are just naturally happy people who happen to show it in their enthusiastic walks, a research study out of Queen’s University shows that things could also work the other way around: the way people walk could also have a role in affecting their moods.
In the study, subjects were given a list of words — some positive (e.g. pretty), and some negative (e.g. anxiety). They were then instructed to walk on a treadmill with the aim of moving an attached gauge to either the left or to the right from a neutral position. Although they didn’t know what the gauge was measuring, the subjects quickly learned that they could affect its movement by how they walked. A slump-shouldered (i.e. depressed) style of walking moved it to the left; whereas a happier gait (bouncier and standing up straight) moved it to the right.
After walking on the treadmill, the subjects were asked to write down as many words from the initial list as they could remember. Researchers found that those who had walked in a depressed style remembered more of the negative words, suggesting that slumping could actually contribute to a more negative outlook.
This study is yet another bit of research that supports the powerful mind-body connection, and highlights that we are mistaken if we think we can compartmentalize the different parts of our lives. Our outlook affects our bodies, and our bodies affect our outlook. Therefore, taking a holistic approach is the key to being at your best.
Fascinating, huh? Here are a few other interesting research findings that show how by being intentional about making simple shifts to how you use your body, you can live a happier life:
- Posture affects our moods.
Researchers found that individuals who were taped into an upright, straight-backed position in a chair reported higher self-esteem, more energy, better mood, and less fear than those who were taped in a slumped position.
When asked to give a speech, the slumped subjects also used more negative emotion words and fewer positive emotion words. The researchers suggested that merely sitting up straight could be a helpful strategy for becoming more resilient in response to stress.
- Posture also changes our hormones.
In her viral TED Talk, Amy Cuddy argued that our body language actually shapes who we are. Her research found that individuals who sit or stand in more expansive positions for two minutes show decreased cortisol (stress hormones) and increased testosterone (dominance hormones) compared to those who were in more diminutive poses. They were also judged by others to be more effective when making a presentation.
- Smiling affects stress.
So smile while you walk! Research has shown that smiling can help your recovery time from all the ills brought on by stress. In one study, subjects were asked to hold chopsticks between their teeth in various ways (to simulate different facial expressions). After completing a stressful task, subjects who had their faces in a smiling position showed lower blood pressure than those who had a neutral facial expression, showing that smiling helps boost resilience. Interestingly, Botox, which interferes with one’s ability to frown, has also been found to have a positive impact on depression. (I’m not suggesting you should go out and get Botox; just try to stop frowning)!
The bottom line? Stand up straight, smile, own your space, and put a skip in your step! You’ll be happier for it.
Written by Dr. Patricia Thompson