You want to be happy, but there’s so much different advice out there.
You’ve tried a few things, but nothing seems to work.
Every day feels like a drag. Each one dull and overcast no matter what the actual weather.
You feel down, depressed and full of darkness.
And you’re wondering is it true that exercise is advantageous for you?
Can it be as amazing as it’s made out to be?
If, so how much is the right amount?
Better than Pills
The evidence that exercise has physical and mental health benefits is longstanding.
In 1999 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an impressive study on physical activity. Men and woman fifty years old and over and all suffering from depression participated.
Randomly divided into three groups. One group completed four months of aerobic exercise. Another group took four months of anti-depressants. The final group had both.
All three groups got better.
The exercise involved three supervised forty-five minute sessions per week of cycling or walking / jogging at moderate to high intensity.
It worked as well as the antidepressants but had more lasting effects. Participants in the exercise group were less likely to suffer depression again.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Other studies show similar results.
Sedentary older adults benefit from a low-intensity exercise programme, for example.
A retirement home study tested walking or resistance training. Finding even moderate exercise reduced depression and increased confidence in residents. Remarkably, the effect lasted for 5 years.
Better than Bacon
One thing that’s difficult to measure is how effective exercise is compared to other factors in life.
Lots of studies suggest money doesn’t contribute much to happiness, for example. But few studies put wealth and happiness head to head.
Exercise is great for health and happiness, but what if we could show it’s more important than how much you earn?
That’s what researchers from Yale and Oxford set out to test.
The new study, published in the Lancet, a top medical journal has broken novel ground.
Scientist collected data on the physical activity and mood of more than 1.2 million Americans.
All participants were asked how often they felt upset in the last 30 days. And whether stress, depression, emotional or other mental problems were the cause.
They also reported their income and the type of physical activities they had done during the week. This included everyday tasks such as housework, mowing the lawn, and childcare, as well as swimming, weight lifting and yoga.
Computers analysed the data assessing differences in age, race, weight, gender, marital status, income and education level, as well as exercise.
The Great U Shape
The study demonstrated that those who exercised regularly felt bad for 18 days less than those who did not.
Sport in particular proved to boost happiness. Social sports — such as team sports — had the biggest effect. But the difference between activities such as going to the gym and cycling wasn’t huge.
Importantly, physical activity did seem more important to happiness than money. Participants who exercised felt just as good as those that didn’t but whom earned $25,000 more.
Exercise could well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities.
But there is a limit though.
It’s not the case of the more you do the happier you feel, there are diminishing returns.
In fact, exercise for too long and too intensely and you can feel worse.
“The relationship between sport duration and mental load is U-shaped,” said study author Adam Chekroud of Yale University.
Three to five training sessions per week, each lasting 30 to 60 minutes are ideal. More than that can have a negative effect.
The mental health of those participants who exercised for longer than three hours a day suffered more than that of those who weren’t particularly physically active.
A Magic Pill for Happiness
Can I give you a magical pill?
It works better than anti-depressants. It’s known to keep you fit, healthy and feeling happy. And now it’s been shown to matter more than economic status. Not to mention it’s free.
Gurus will continue to proclaim they’ve found the way to divine bliss, but science can proclaim something that’s proven to work.
Exercise lifts your mood and reduces depression and increases confidence. It reduces the number of days a year you feel mentally unwell.
And the amount prescribed is not too much. Between 3–5 days a week and between 30–60 minutes each time.
Three longish walks and two short cycles, or a regular baseball match and a couple of days in the gym, are all you need.
Asses how much exercise you do each week; does it meet the ideal amounts?
If very intensive, is there any negative effect?
If too little, is there more you can do?
A regular walk at lunch could do you wonders, increasing your happiness more than a pay increase would do.
So give it some serious thought. Draw up an exercise plan and commit to meeting it.
Get healthy and happy at the same time.
- The Lancet: Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/