By: Olivia Kona
Do people exercise because they’re happy? Or are people happy because they exercise? Erin O’Loughlin, researcher and PhD candidate in exercise and health psychology, poses this chicken or the egg dilemma. Over time, she noticed that people who exercise are just, well, happier. But which came first: exercising or happiness? Erin researches this question and more.
Physical activity has always been a significant part of Erin’s life. She grew up in Pointe-Claire playing a wide variety of sports, ringette being her favorite. In fact, she still plays the sport on the Pointe-Claire Ringette Association’s Provincial Champions B Team.
Erin, owner of Studio Barre Plus, lives in Beaconsfield with her husband Charles and their daughter Olivia. The three of them travel yearly to France to visit Charles’ family in Rouen. While there, they hop over to the Côte d’Azur where Erin and Charles have on occasion ridden a motorcycle on the heart-stopping hairpin curves and sheer rock edges of the Corniche d’Or road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Recently, Erin added Concordia University’s Public Scholar award to her many academic accolades. In her new role, she’ll become one of the university’s public faces and a ‘leader for change’ as she shares her expertise as well as the research and knowledge from her numerous peer-reviewed publications.
I interviewed Erin at her cozy studio in the Pointe-Claire Village where she shared some of her research insights and thoughts on exercise and life.
Finding the Motivation to Exercise
Erin: Shame is not a good motivator. It never works. Guilt sometimes elicits action.
People need to feel that exercise is their choice so if you’re doing boot camp and your friend tells you it’s the best way to lose weight and you hate it, you’re not going to continue.
And you have to feel like you can do it. If you’re doing a step class and it’s an advanced class and you’re lost and you feel horrible that you can’t keep up, you’re probably not going to go back. Start at a level where you feel competent and you’re going to build confidence.
You also need to feel support from the people around you and be with people that you like. If you’re going somewhere where the people make you feel uncomfortable, even if you like the activity and you feel great, it’s not going to work.
Yes, active video gaming is exercise
Erin: Unfortunately, people are very sedentary when they game so it’s our hope as experts that active video gaming (exergaming) will reduce their sedentary time.
Pokémon Go is a mobile exergame. This game got a lot of people moving, walking outside and talking with other people. People have an old school mentality and insist that kids should be outside playing sports and running around and although I agree, kids are not being as active as they should be. There are more attractive alternatives like video games, television and tablets. Erin insists that kids should be outside playing sports and running around.
We can’t change how things are right now, so we have to find ways to offer kids what they like. Kids just want to have fun. Whether fun is being active or fun is being sedentary, that hasn’t changed, just the definition of fun has. No one’s saying ‘don’t teach sports’, just offer something new. People are comfortable having their kids do exergaming at home in a controlled environment where they can supervise them. And parents can do it with their kids as well.
Boys play fight, they’re rough and tumble. Some girls are like that, too, but parents don’t let their kids do that anymore because they’re told ‘Your kid’s a bully’ if they play fight. It’s natural for kids to play fight. I play fought with my brother all the time.
There are kids who are in therapeutic programs because parents don’t let their kids play on jungle gyms in fear of them being hurt. They don’t have proper balance and can’t walk straight. They trip, they’re clumsy, have no coordination and need to work with therapists because their parents never let them play fight or hit the ground.
Exercise and the Happiness Factor
Erin: I’d like to see people moving and getting outside more, meeting people more in the community and loving physical activity. I’ve noticed people who exercise are happier.
Repeatedly, studies show exercise can help relieve depression in combination with drugs and talk therapy. It’s a well-rounded approach. A lot of people won’t seek help. There’s still a stigma. They need to know that there’s an association between exercising and feeling better. Exercising is a low cost and drug-free way to aid in mental health issues. However, it’s always advisable to speak with a health care provider to treat depression.
Sexy Research Topics Get Media Attention
Erin: First, you do research (literature review) and discover what information is missing in your area of interest. Next, you collect data. Then there’s analysis and results. After that, you write a paper that hopefully gets peer-reviewed in a journal. Ultimately, you hope that the media picks it up and people will start to learn about your work. It doesn’t always happen because it depends on what’s sexy at the time.
Actually, I won a media award in 2014 for one of the articles we published. I was the media person of the week and became media person of the year for Concordia University because our research got picked up by so many news outlets. I also did radio interviews. It was on binging drinking and it was sexy at the time. It was through Concordia so it was very pertinent to that age group — 20 year olds.
In 2013, one of my articles got picked up by Reuters. It was on active video games which is what I’m doing my thesis on.”
On Postpartum Depression
Erin: Exercise helped me a lot. I worked on a fundraiser for mental health awareness and I wrote on Facebook ‘For those of you who don’t know, I had postpartum depression. Feel free to donate.’ I got seven or eight Facebook messages from friends who said they had had it, as well. People think that they’re a failure and that they weren’t tough enough. But to have someone say ‘I had it, so what?’ Then it becomes OK.
Philosophy of Life
Erin: I just keep going. None of the things would have happened if I hadn’t put in the effort, hard work and grit. Just because the door slams in your face, even if you’ve put in all the effort you can, it doesn’t mean that if you put effort somewhere else that another door won’t open. I also feel that surrounding yourself with great people and being thankful is a great way to be successful. My mother taught me it is better to be giving in most circumstances than competitive and that helping in whatever way you can, whenever you can, brings you more happiness than anything else.