Exercise has long been regarded as a natural mood booster that can release physical tension, relieve stress and produce endorphins. But the benefits of exercise aren’t always enough motivation for people to work out regularly.
As it turns out, starting slow with just small amounts of exercise or physical activity has more benefits than you might think.
A recent UK study found that even minimal amounts of physical activity can have a mood-boosting effect, regardless of how happy a person is already — and even if it’s not technically considered “exercise.”
In the largest ever smartphone-based study to explore the link between physical activity and happiness, researchers examined data collected from over 10,000 participants. These individuals used an Android tracking app to passively track their physical activity via smartphone accelerometers. The app also prompted participants to report their mood levels at two different times throughout the day.
Data from physical activity could be tracked in real-time, which helped take out the self-reporting problem that comes with trying to remember all the movement an individual actually did that day — whether it was a short walk through the parking lot, or a strenuous weight session at the gym.
The only self-reported component included the mood and emotional data, which participants submitted by using a four-quadrant positive/negative grid within the app.
By analyzing this information, the researchers found that even slight physical activity — such as walking around casually — was enough to help increase participants’ mood states, regardless of their baseline happiness level. Overall, however, happy people tended to be more active.
The researchers note that while previous research has looked at the relationship between exercise and happiness with mixed results, most of those studies involved small sample sizes and relied on self-reported physical activity data collected only at specific time periods.
The activity data from this particular study, which was passively tracked throughout the day, could provide averages for each day and participant, which gave researchers the ability to see higher emotional states on days of higher physical activity.
So even if you can’t afford a gym membership or find the time in your busy schedule to work out at home, you may at least be able to get some mood-boosting effects just by focusing on moving your body more throughout the day — wherever you may be.
You could simply try to do a few exercises at your desk during breaks at work, incorporate some office-friendly yoga poses into your day or consider making your walking more effective as you wander around indoors and outdoors.
Making these types of movement a regular habit will bring about physical health benefits too. Take any chance you get to move a little! It really does add up, and these strategies may well serve as the starting point for a more official exercise habit.