A study from Yale and Oxford Universities suggests that exercise is more important to our mental health than our economic status.
The research study was published in The Lancet and presented findings from analyzing the physical behavior and mental mood of 1.2 million Americans.
Researchers asked participants questions like, “How many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days, for example, due to stress, depression, or emotional problems?”
Participants could choose from 75 types of physical activity—including running, weightlifting, to even childcare or lawnmowing.
The researchers concluded that exercise does more for increasing your overall happiness levels than money does.
The findings: Those who were more active were happier overall
Researchers found that more physically active participants experienced less bad days in a year (35) compared to non-active participants (53).
They found that economic status did not make any difference. Physically active people were just as happy as non-active people who earned $25,000 or more a year.
Given these findings, the researchers believe that you’d need to earn quite a lot more money for your income to give you the same happiness-boosting effect sport has.
However, there’s a thin line:
More exercise doesn’t mean more happiness
While exercise can make you happy and can make time go faster, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the more you exercise, the happier you’ll get.
In fact, researchers suggest that too much exercise may reverse the positive effects and leave you worse off.
The study’s lead author, Dr Adam Chekroud, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University says:
“Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90 minute sessions is associated with worse mental health.”
So what’s the sweet spot?
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Exercising 30 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 times a week is best
Dr Chekroud and his team found that those who exercised approximately 30 to 60 minutes, 3 to 5 times per weeks were the happiest year-round.
They noted that those who over-exercised were the ones who have obsessive characteristics that made them overwork in the first place.
So the secret?
According to health coach and personal trainer Malia Frey, a good balance between work-out lengths and intensity levels is key.
“Develop a workout schedule that involves different activities, different intensity levels, and different session lengths. For example, if you normally do 40 minutes of walking, keep that activity on your workout schedule two or three days per week. But as an added challenge, walk for 60-75 minutes one day during the week.
“On the remaining days, mix in a cycling workout and a day of walk/run intervals. If you are healthy enough for vigorous activity, add HIIT workouts, which have been shown to be effective at burning fat. By incorporating more variety into your schedule, you can work out every day and avoid burnout.”
The brain-changing benefits of exercise
The conclusions of the Yale and Oxford researchers is supported by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki’s popular TED talk.
“A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. That is going to increase your mood right after that workout, exactly what I was feeling. My lab showed that a single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours.
“And finally, studies have shown that a single workout will improve your reaction times which basically means that you are going to be faster at catching that cup of Starbucks that falls off the counter, which is very, very important.”
But these effects are not only immediate, but they also create a long-lasting positive impact. Among the massive neural benefits of exercise are:
- improves attention-function
- protects your brain, decreasing chances of mental diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia
Suzukui’s key point:
Exercise has amazing and game-changing benefits to the brain, too.
To watch her full TED talk, click here.
Regular exercise is an overall life-changer
Regular exercise, if carried out with balance, creates positives change in your life. Now we know that it not only has positive physical and mental benefits but it makes us happier, too.
So stop making excuses. If you want to create a positive change in your life right now, exercise is one of the simplest things you can do to start.