What makes people happy? Is it love? Money? A new study takes a slightly different angle: can exercise make you happy? Specifically, can it make you happier than money?
The benefits of physical activity have been well documented, but less research has been done on how exercise affects mental health. Researchers from Yale and Oxford studied 1.2 million adults in the U.S. from the 2011, 2013, and 2015 Centers for Disease Control Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System Surveys.
The study asked participants, “how many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days, for example, due to stress, depression, or emotional problems?” People who exercised had fewer days of poor mental health than those who did not exercise. Even considering physical and sociodemographic characteristics, those who worked out regularly felt bad 35 days a year. Those who did not exercise felt bad 53 days a year, 18 more days.
Additional research has found that income has a positive correlation with happiness, at least to a certain level. However, the Yale and Oxford researchers found that people who exercised were as happy as those who did not exercise, but who made $25,000 or more.
Limits To Exercise-Induced Happiness
Scientists cautioned against trying to exercise your way to million-dollar happiness. The ideal formula for peak happiness was three to five training sessions a week, lasting an average of 45 minutes each. People who exercised longer than three hours a day found their mental health suffered more than those who were inactive.
Type of Exercise Matters
Although any kind of physical activity is beneficial, the study found that cycling, aerobic exercise, and team sports had even more positive effects on the participants’ mental health relative to alternative forms of exercise.
Happy employers are more productive and have higher retention rates, which makes them better investments for employers. Since exercise provides significant physical and mental health benefits that lead to increased happiness, businesses that provide wellness programs can encourage physical activity and social interaction through onsite classes and group events, thereby hitting all of the buttons for developing happy employees. Additionally, wellness initiatives that focus on programs beyond physical activity can help employees to exercise, but in moderation.