Happiness is one of the few things in life you can’t buy. (Others being time, health, and — of course — the latest PlayStation launch when it’s impossible to outsmart bots and scalpers.)
But a regular routine might just unlock that happiness. That, according to exercise statistics and research linking fitness to a better all-around mood.
Check out these 13 inspiring statistics about exercise and happiness!
Exercise Contributes To Happiness
- Those who train more often are happier and more successful than those who don’t exercise (75% vs. 25% and 74% vs. 26%, respectively).
- The odds of being happy climb with more physical activity, with those “sufficiently” or “very active” being 29% and 52% more likely to be happy, respectively.
How Does Exercise Create Happiness?
The internet is full of supposed “life hacks” swearing to hold the secrets to instant success, wealth, or happiness.
Did you know something as simple as smiling can release feel-good chemicals in the brain like dopamine and serotonin that naturally lift your mood? Okay, that one’s actually true!
The connection between exercise and happiness is quite similar.
After about a half-hour of training, the brain releases endorphins, the so-called “feel-good” hormones that temporarily “numb” the body’s pain receptors and create a sense of euphoria.
This “runner’s high” creates a temporary confidence and mood upswing. Yet, exercise is also a tried-and-true stress-reliever.
Moderate-intensity exercise can lower the body’s cortisol and adrenaline levels, the stress hormones that cause anxiety and fight-or-flight mode.
Researchers also suggest that three-hour-long workouts per week can create new brain cells and improve the hippocampus’s functioning, the part of the brain that controls emotion.
People Who Regularly Exercise Are Happier
- The link between exercise and improved happiness is strong, even for small doses of physical activity — as little as ten minutes or one training session per week.
- Three to five 30–60-minute cardio sessions per week can improve your mental health.
- People who exercise 4–7 times per week are happier than those who train >3 times.
- Happiness levels peak with 150–300 minutes of exercise per week, with no extra benefits reported for those eclipsing the 300-minute mark.
Why Does More Exercise Make You Happier? (To an Extent…)
The mood-lifting benefits of exercise follow the principle of diminishing returns: the perks climb with more training time, yet they eventually level off somewhere around 300 weekly minutes.
And yes, exercise can even turn into an addiction. However, we think more exercise is generally better. Here are our guesses why:
- Instead of the once-weekly endorphin rush and stress hormone dips, these benefits occur daily or every other day, allowing for a more balanced mood.
- Many folks thrive with consistent daily routines; the satisfaction of sticking to a five-day-a-week workout program can relieve anxiety.
- People can achieve life-changing physique transformations, including muscle growth, more confidence, and weight loss as a result of exercise.
- Training routines also encourage healthier eating; ditch the mood-deflating junk food and eat a more balanced diet loaded with healthy fats, fiber, whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables — all of which can improve happiness and brain functioning.
So it’s not only the brain chemicals and hormone rushes boosting happiness.
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It Doesn’t Matter How You Exercise, Be Active!
- Exercise can include any activity that requires movement, whether that’s household chores like childcare or cleaning or traditional exercises like running and cycling.
- An eight-week study of 80 male students found that those who played soccer twice a week were happier, more social, and reported fewer symptoms of depression.
Traditional Exercise Alternatives — Yes, They Exist!
Between the sore muscles, achy joints, and sweat-drenched clothes, it’s no wonder 42% of people “don’t have the time” to exercise, while another 25% confess to openly disliking it.
But exercise doesn’t have to mean a brutal hill workout, a 4-day split routine, or a weekly 5K.
Quite literally any physical activity that lands you in your target heart rate zone ― 50–85% of your maximum heart rate — can count as “exercise,” including:
- Gardening, lawn-mowing, or raking
- Cycling to work
- Vigorous house-cleaning
- Hiking or even walking around the ‘burbs
- Hula hooping, hopscotch, or tag (for the parents or older siblings out there)
- Rock climbing gyms or trampoline parks
- Recreational or intramural sports
- Taking the stairs or parking your car further away
Remember: any amount and type of exercise is better than nothing, even if you fall short of the CDC’s recommendation — 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio each week.
Exercise Benefits People Of All Ages
- Although happiness and life satisfaction increase with age, physically active people are more likely to be happy and satisfied with their life (regardless of age).
- Physically active adolescents (aged 8–17) tend to be happier.
But, It Goes Much Further Than Happiness
Whether you’re a Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, or Gen Z (or are we calling them Zoomers now?), the benefits of a regular fitness routine don’t start and end with happiness.
Physical activity can also:
- Extend your lifespan by 0.4–6.9 years
- Lower your risk of 40 chronic diseases, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease
- Decrease depression and anxiety symptoms and improve sleep
- Improve self-confidence and motivation
- Better manage cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin, and blood sugar
- Maintain a lifelong healthy weight (70.2% of Americans are obese or overweight)
- Enhance memory, relieve stress, and regulate emotions
- Stronger muscles and bones and other anti-aging effects
Of course, having fewer health issues, aches and pains, unplanned doctors’ appointments, and emergency room visits brings its own wave of happiness.
Exercise Is Good For Improving Mental Health
- The body releases mood-boosting and pain-relieving endorphins 20–30 minutes after aerobic activity, an effect that can last for hours post-exercise.
- One in five Americans deals with anxiety, including 63% of college freshmen feeling a “tremendous” amount in their first year.
- Positive mental health encourages those aged 50 and older to exercise.
- Exercising for 45 minutes three times per week can be more effective for reducing depression relapse rates over six months than antidepressants or medication and exercise combined (9%, 38%, and 31%, respectively).
Exercise & Mental Health Benefits
(If you struggle with your mental health, please schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. An exercise routine on its own cannot revamp genetics or brain chemistry.)
Between self-confidence, surging endorphins, low cortisol levels, and neuron generation, exercise is one of the most widely prescribed treatments for those with mental health conditions.
That’s exactly why scientists and doctors recommend exercise for those with:
- ADD & ADHD
- Addiction or substance abuse disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
On top of relieving many of the lingering symptoms of these disorders, exercise can also improve sleep quality, give patients something to look forward to, and increase self-esteem.
Does Exercise Make You Happier?
Exercise does make you happier. The release of feel-good chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine provides a natural mood boost, euphoric sensation, and pain relief similar to morphine. Physical activity also decreases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, inducing a sense of calm.
How Much Exercise Is Needed For Happiness?
Small doses of exercise — as little as ten minutes per week — can significantly contribute to happiness. Yet, research suggests that those exercising 150–300 minutes per week are the happiest, more so than those training 300+ minutes. As little as 60 minutes a week can lower the risk of depression.
What Types Of Exercise Make You Happiest?
No single type of exercise will make you the happiest. Yoga, walking, strength training, sports, aerobic exercise, Zumba, and CrossFit are all proven mood-boosters. However, research out of Rutgers University reveals that moderate-intensity exercise could be even more effective for triggering happiness.
If you’re among the 86% of Americans who don’t label themselves “very happy,” physical activity is one of the best, healthiest, most natural, and free-est mood-boosters around.
But remember that exercise isn’t a cure for anxiety, depression, or generally gloomy feelings. It takes tiny changes in every corner of your life to uplift your mood long-term.
A healthy diet, quitting cigarettes and alcohol, finding a hobby, building a reliable friend group, adopting a pet, and laughing all pack a similar happy-fueled punch.
Exercise only takes those benefits that much further!
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