If you were to comb through the research, you would confirm – to support happiness, work out. We now know, event people who work out for 10 minutes once a week are happier. And pick whatever you like – it doesn’t matter.
A number of past studies have noted that physically active people have much lower risks of developing depression and anxiety than people who rarely move.
We knew that exercise reduced your level of depression and anxiety. But now, we know that physical activity is linked to upbeat emotions, especially in people who already were psychologically healthy, and those studies often looked at a single age group or type of exercise.
So for the new review, in The Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers at the University of Michigan decided to aggregate and analyze multiple past studies of working out and happiness.
They began by combing research databases for relevant studies and wound up with 23 published since 1980. Most of those were observational, meaning that the scientists simply looked at a group of people, asking them how much they worked out and how happy they were. A few of the studies were experiments in which people started exercising and researchers measured their happiness before and after.
Exercise might also remodel the brain, for example, by prompting the creation of new brain cells or inducing changes in brain chemicals, in ways that contribute to positive emotions.
The type of exercise did not seem to matter. Some happy people walked or jogged. Others practiced yoga-style posing and stretching.
What is Happiness?
Happiness also is an inherently subjective, squishy concept. The studies analyzed in the review asked people how happy they felt. But one person’s happiness could be another’s relative gloom, making it difficult to generalize about how any of us might react, emotionally, to starting an exercise routine.
And, of course, the review did not delve into how exercise could be influencing happiness. But being happy is more than our own assessment. It is about flourishing in life.
The founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, made two main points about flourishing: that there are five central elements of human flourishing, each independently measured and enhanced.
- Positive emotions
And that the character strengths that we hold are the pathways to these five areas, or PERMA. Seligman says that there are twenty-four strengths that underpin all five elements, not just engagement: deploying your highest strengths leads to more positive emotion, to more meaning, to more accomplishment, and to better relationships. There is now plenty of research that supports this theory showing that character strengths closely connect to each part of PERMA/flourishing.