Most people know that nutrition and movement are important for health, but fewer people are aware how significantly other factors—such as pleasure and social connection—can influence our physical well-being.
The activities we perceive as pleasurable release chemicals in our body, such as endorphins and oxytocin, that have positive health effects.
For example, both endorphins and oxytocin decrease circulating levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that drives the fight-or-flight response. (1, 2) Since many of us are living under stressful conditions that cause cortisol to be chronically elevated, anything that can reduce cortisol levels will probably be beneficial for health.
And they simply make us feel good!
Here are 7 ways to practice #pleasure in your life this week.
There are many reasons to prioritize pleasure in your life, but it can be an easy thing to forget in the midst of work, home, school, and other obligations. But having a plan to prioritize pleasure can help make your goals a reality, so in this article, I’ll share with you you seven easy ways you can increase the pleasure in your life this week.
1. Listen to (Or Play) Some Music
Almost everyone likes some type of music, and listening to music is one of the easiest ways to bring more pleasure into your life. Research indicates that music can reduce pain and anxiety, reduce cortisol, and increase levels of oxytocin. (6, 7, 8) One study also found that participating in a drumming group improved immune function by increasing natural killer and other killer cell activity. (9)
This week, make a point of listening to music that makes you happy, whether that’s playing your favorite song on your way to work, stopping to listen to street performers, or going to a concert. Even better, play an instrument yourself, or get some friends together and have a jam session.
2. Take a Hike
Walking is great no matter where you do it, but we can probably all agree that walking in a natural setting is much more enjoyable than walking on paved roads or inside on a treadmill.
And now that the weather has warmed up (here in the northern hemisphere), there’s no reason not to get outside and enjoy nature!
For most of human history, we spent the majority of our time outdoors, and we’re wired to derive pleasure from interacting with nature. (10) Spending time in nature has been shown to decrease stress and improve a variety of health conditions, from depression and anxiety to heart disease. (11, 12) Hiking is a great way to reap the benefits of being in nature as well as the benefits of moving around.
3. Get Some Sun
While you’re outside, make sure to get some sun – and not just because it feels good. Contrary to popular opinion, the sun is not there to burn you and give you skin cancer. Regular sun exposure is actually good for your health, and may help modulate the immune system, decrease blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular health. (13, 14)
And of course, sunlight also prompts vitamin D production in the body. Vitamin D is necessary for bone health and proper immune function, and might protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other negative health outcomes. (15, 16, 17) And it’s probably best to skip the sunscreen, as long as you’re careful not to get burnt!
4. Watch a Funny Movie
The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” has stuck around for a reason – laughter really is good for your health. One study in healthy adult women found that watching a funny video reduced stress and improved the activity of natural killer immune cells, compared with a “distraction” group that watched a non-humorous video. (18) Laughter has also been shown to improve immune function and stress response in cancer patients. (19)
If movies aren’t your thing, try looking up some videos of stand-up comedy performances. Or, better yet, treat yourself to a live comedy show. If all else fails, just hang out with your friends or children or pets for a few hours; one of them is bound to do something funny.
5. Get a Massage
Another great way to get more pleasure in your life is through human touch. You could always just go hug your partner or a friend, but why not kick it up a notch and get a massage this week? Massage is associated with an increase in oxytocin and a decrease in hormones associated with stress. (20) Regular massage has also been found to increase immune function and decrease markers of inflammation. (21)
A massage is a great thing to do with your partner for a romantic night in, or if you’re single, treat yourself to a full-body massage at a spa. They’re an indulgence, but a worthwhile one if you need some extra pleasure in your life.
6. Schedule a Date Night
In a world that’s more connected than ever through the internet and social media, it’s ironic that many of us may be suffering from a lack of human connection. A large study published in 2010 found that social support was a better predictor of survival than a slew of other risk factors, including BMI, physical activity, blood pressure, air pollution, smoking, and alcohol consumption. (22)
It’s also well-known that married people tend to have increased life expectancies, while people who are lonely tend to have higher levels of heart disease, insomnia, inflammation, cancer, and depression. (23, 24)
This is all observational research, but you probably don’t need anyone to tell you that social connection is a vital part of health and happiness. Humans naturally crave connection with others, whether through family, friendships, or romantic relationships.
If you have a romantic partner, schedule a date night to spend some quality time with them this week. Otherwise, make time to visit with a close friend or family member, even if it’s just a quick coffee or lunch date.
7. Play a Game
If you want to spend time with family or friends this week but aren’t sure what to do, why not have a game night? Break out the board games, card games, poker table, or Scrabble board and just have fun for a few hours! Or, if those types of games aren’t your thing, you could go for something more energetic like a game of basketball, frisbee, or volleyball.
Playing games and sports can help both children and adults feel less stressed, and can even improve social intelligence, memory, and problem solving skills. (25) Having a regular family game night is a great way for you to destress, strengthen your relationships, teach your children to socialize appropriately, and have fun all at the same time.
Those are my seven suggestions for getting more pleasure in your life this week. If you’ve read my book, you might recall that pleasure and social connection actually played a big role in my own journey back to health—and they’re core components of ancestral health.
I’m a big believer in the importance of pleasure and do my best to make it a priority in my life, and I hope these suggestions help you start to prioritize pleasure in your life as well.
In my own experience with chronic illness, finding a way to embrace pleasure, fun, and close personal relationships was life-changing. After struggling with feelings of exhaustion and demoralization, making time for pleasure felt revitalizing. It was a crucial step in my journey to reclaim my health.
Embracing an ancestral lifestyle means more than adopting a Paleo diet or a new exercise routine. It means living a life that’s aligned with our genes, our physiology, and our biology. Ancestral health is all about correcting the mismatch we have with our modern environment—a mismatch that’s driving chronic disease to epidemic levels.
I believe that ancestral health, combined with a Functional approach to healthcare, is key for fighting back against that epidemic. That’s why I use this approach with my patients in my clinic, and why I included it in the curriculum of the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program.
I created the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program to teach the skills and competencies that I wanted to see if I were hiring a health coach to join my clinic staff. Our program covers the core coaching skills in depth, of course, but we also dive into Functional Health, so our students understand the root causes of chronic illness, and we discuss the ancestral perspective, giving them more insight into the impact that lifestyle has on health.
Learning more about Functional and ancestral health is the best way for health coaches to prepare to work in a collaborative healthcare environment with clinicians and allied care providers. If you want to learn more about how we’re training the next generation of Functional health coaches, visit our program page here.