Small amounts of exercise could have an outsize effect on happiness.
According to a new review of research about good moods and physical activity, people who work out even once a week or for as little as 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. And any type of exercise may be helpful.
The idea that moving can affect our moods is not new. Many of us would probably say that we feel less cranky or more relaxed after a jog or visit to the gym.
Science would generally agree with us. A number of past studies have noted that physically active people have much lower risks of developing depression and anxiety than people who rarely move.
But that research centered on the relationships between exercise and psychological problems like depression and anxiety. Fewer past studies explored links between physical activity and upbeat emotions, especially in people who already were psychologically healthy, and those studies often looked at a single age group or type of exercise.
On their own, they do not tell us much about the amounts or types of exercise that might best lift our moods, or whether most of us might expect to find greater happiness with regular exercise or only certain groups of people.
So for the new review, in The Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers at the University of Michigan decided to aggregate and analyze multiple past studies of working out and happiness.
They began by combing research databases for relevant studies and wound up with 23 published since 1980. Most of those were observational, meaning that the scientists simply looked at a group of people, asking them how much they worked out and how happy they were. A few of the studies were experiments in which people started exercising and researchers measured their happiness before and after.
The number of participants in any one study was often small, but together, they represented more than 500,000 people ranging in age from adolescents to the very old and covering a broad range of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
And for most of them, the Michigan researchers found, exercise was strongly linked to happiness.
“Every one of the observational studies showed a beneficial relationship between being physically active and being happy,” says Weiyun Chen, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan, who, with her graduate student Zhanjia Zhang, wrote the review. To read more from Gretchen Reynolds, click here.