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Low Levels of Physical Activity Can Still Improve Happiness

THE RESULTS of a large study that used the smartphones of over 10,000 participants show that small amounts of physical activity, or non-exercise activity, has a positive impact on happiness.

The research was carried out by scientists from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK and the University of Essex, Essex, UK. The team collected data on individuals’ physical activity and emotional wellbeing through an application on their smartphones.

Physical activity was passively gathered from smartphone accelerometers that provided an indication of how much each individual was moving around over the course of a day. In the app, participants were asked to complete self-report surveys at two random points in the day. They would indicate their current feelings by tapping on a two-dimensional grid to report how positive or negative, and how sleepy or alert, they were feeling. Users also reported their current positive or negative affect by responding to questions that would rate how much they felt a range of adjectives described their current mood, such as anxious or calm.

The researchers measured the averages of physical activity during each day and found that participants with higher levels of activity showed a more positive emotional state. “Our data show that happy people are more active in general,” explained Dr Jason Rentfrow, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. The team also found that physical activity, even at a minimal level of non-exercise such as walking from the car to the office, could increase emotional wellbeing regardless of baseline levels of happiness.

Dr Rentfrow also said: “There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we have found is that in order to be happier, you do not have to go out and run a marathon: all you have really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”

Jack Redden, Reporter

Keywords: Emotional States, Happiness, Physical Activity, Psychology, Smartphones