A little exercise goes a long way to making you happy

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Published by
Jan Hills
January 12, 2017

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Researchers have found that even small amounts of physical activity can make you happier.

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The largest-ever smartphone-based study examining the relationship between physical activity and happiness has found that even minimal levels of activity can have a positive effect on happiness.

Based on reports from more than 10,000 individuals, the research found that physical activity, whether or not it is classified as exercise, can have a positive effect on emotional well-being. The study carried out by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Essex, used data gathered from a mood tracking app for Android phones and found that even modest levels of physical activity, even physical activity not normally classified as exercise like house work, can increase a person’s reported emotional well-being, regardless of their baseline level of happiness. They also found that people reported being happier when they were physically active.

Earlier studies in this area have focused on the relationship between exercise and happiness, with mixed results but much of this past research has relied on retrospective self-reports, on data collected at only one time period, and on small samples.

For the new study, data on physical activity was passively gathered from smartphone accelerometers, and participants were also sent a short survey at two random intervals throughout the day which asked questions about their emotional state. Users reported their emotional state on a grid, based on how positive or negative, and how energetic or sleepy, they were feeling. Users were also asked a handful of questions about how their mood compared to normal.

“Our data show that happy people are more active in general,” said the senior author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology “However, our analyses also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”

The researchers advise us to track out physical activity throughout the day and to include every day movement like walking to the shop or up the stairs rather than taking the lift.

The study also points to how mobile and wearable technology can be used to collect data across large numbers of people with minimal effort.

So if one of your goals is to be happier in 2017. Get moving!

Source: Sarah Collins – University of Cambridge 

Original Research: Full open access research for “Happier People Live More Active Lives: Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity” by Lathia, N. Sandstrom, G.M., Mascolo, C., & Rentfrow, P.J in PLOS ONE. Published online January 5 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160589

 

 

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