You've probably been told at some point that exercise improves happiness. But if you're not a regular gym goer, you may have been baffled by this information.
How can huffing and puffing, aching muscles, and heavy sweating make you feel anything but gross, sore, or possibly embarrassed about your low level of physical fitness, the more sedentary among us ask. It's a sensible question. A new study out of the University of Connecticut offers an interesting answer.
While a workout that pushes you to your limits certainly can have real benefits, you actually don't need to stress yourself out at the gym or on the jogging path to experience the mood-boosting benefits of exercise, the researchers found. For folks who are less active, simply standing up and going for an easy walk is enough to significantly boost happiness levels, they discovered.
No sweat required
To come to this conclusion the research team wired up 419 healthy but not incredibly fit middle-aged adults to an accelerometer that tracked their activity over four days. Participants were also regularly quizzed about their psychological well-being. The results showed that something as easy as getting up off your chair and walking around for a few minutes was enough to trigger a noticeable uptick in happiness.
"Simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being," Gregory Panza, the study's lead author, commented. "What is even more promising for the physically inactive person is that they do not need to exercise vigorously to see these improvements."
In fact, the authors stress that no sweat is required. Just a stroll around your local park or shopping center that doesn't even raise your heart rate is enough to have an effect. And the impact was greatest for the most slothful of the study participants, suggesting that the more time you spend sitting, the bigger a happiness boost you'll see from simply standing up. (The researchers caution that all participants were psychologically healthy at the start of the study, so these results don't necessarily apply to those facing depression or other serious mental health issues.)
The incredible science of taking a stroll
You might be surprised that simply taking a stroll can have such powerful effects, but this is just the latest study in a long line of research suggesting that very moderate increases in activity levels can have impressively large impacts.
One study found that even just walking around the office for five minutes now and again can counteract the seriously detrimental health effects of all-day sitting. Another showed walking around improves cognitive function and memory.
The takeaway message couldn't be clearer: if you want to be happier, force yourself to get up and take a walk around a few times a day. It sounds like too little to make a difference, but science suggests, feeling better is actually way easier than you think.