The Science Behind Gratitude & How It Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals

The Science Behind Gratitude & How It Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals

From boosting your mood, to making you feel happier, to helping you build strong relationships and deal with adversity, positive psychology research has shown the wide-reaching benefits of regularly practicing gratitude. But did you know gratitude can also help you reach your fitness goals faster?

With American Thanksgiving later this week, we thought it was fitting to dive into some of the science behind how gratitude can be such a powerful part of your fitness routine, and share one of our favorite practices to do so!

Practicing gratitude helps lower stress and improve sleep.

When we’re feeling stressed at work, overwhelmed in our personal lives, or just plain tired, we’re more likely to feel tempted to skip working out. While it’s definitely important to listen to your body and rest when you know you need it, consistently skipping your workout won’t help you reach your fitness goals. In fact, consistency is key to reaching any and every kind of goal, especially those related to your physical health. 

Interestingly, research has shown that feeling thankful reduces stress levels psychologically and physically in the body. In a study done by researchers at the universities of Utah and Kentucky, “stressed-out law students who characterized themselves as optimistic actually had more disease-fighting cells in their bodies.”

Other studies have shown that people who kept gratitude journals had lower blood pressure and reduced inflammation in the body than those that didn’t. One study saw that stress hormones like cortisol were 23% lower in grateful people, while other research suggests a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce aging in the brain. 

That’s good news for your fitness goals, since the lower your stress levels are, the easier it is for your body to fall asleep at night, and get a restful night of sleep––all factors that end up impacting your commitment to your fitness plans, as well as your physical performance during your workout or other physical activity.

Gratitude also helps you set & achieve process-based goals.

The road to reaching any kind of goal will always be filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, moments when you feel like you’re on top of the world, and moments when you don’t. Success isn’t linear, and neither is your fitness journey, which is one of the many reasons why enjoying the process is so important: When you do, you’re able to see beyond the tough moments and find the inner strength to keep going. Regularly practicing gratitude helps you do just that.

What’s the scientific reasoning behind this phenomenon? Psychological researchers have found that human beings who take greater pleasure in process-based goals rather than outcome based goals have higher success rates. So you’re more likely to stick with and achieve a process-based goal like “working out three times a week” compared to an outcome-driven goal like “losing 10 pounds.”

The thing is, our culture often puts a lot of emphasis on achieving specific outcomes, which can make it more challenging for us to identify and set process-driven goals that involve the execution of plans, or building of the long-term habit. 

But taking just five minutes at the beginning of your day to jot down three things you appreciate about your life can start to change the chemistry in your brain, making it easier and easier for you to see your life as a series of steps along a larger journey, rather than something that must be achieved and then crossed off your list. 

When we move through life in this way, we experience higher levels of joy and fulfillment, giving the age-old advice to “enjoy the process” a new meaning––it’s actually supported by brain science. 

But like any new habit, you need to practice gratitude consistently for a prolonged period of time to see the results.

Even though practicing gratitude has actually been shown to rewire your brain, it still takes time to see and feel the effects of the practice. Results don’t happen overnight and both your brain and body need time to acclimate to the changes you’re creating. 

If you’re starting a gratitude practice for the first time, set a specific amount of time to which you will commit to showing up and following through on the practice. Building a new habit can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days, which is quite a large range! 

Instead of getting stressed or overwhelmed about choosing the exact right amount of time to commit to your new gratitude practice, try to choose an amount of time that feels both doable and achievable. You’re looking for a period of time that will feel both challenging and supportive at the same time.

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Do you have a regular gratitude practice? We’d love to know more about it in the comments below and how it’s improved your life and supported you in your fitness journey!
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