We’ve always known physical exercise has great mental and physical health benefits. But here’s something that’s often overlooked – it’s actually better for our mental health than being rich! At least that’s what a study by researchers at Yale and Oxford Universities showed.
Researchers gathered data on the mental state and physical behavior of 1.2 million Americans. In the study, which was subsequently published in The Lancet, participants were asked how often they had felt mentally unwell due to depression, stress, or emotional issues in the past month. They were also asked about their physical activities and economic status. They could choose from over 70 kinds of physical activity, including running, mowing the lawn, cycling, taking care of children, lifting weights, and doing housework.
Researchers found a positive correlation between physical activity and self-reported happiness. In layman’s terms, the people who were more active were also happier. Less active or non-active participants tended to feel unwell 53 days a year, while those who exercised regularly felt unwell for 18 days less on average.
What about Economic Status?
The researchers also found that physically active people did not feel worse than those who made about $25,000 more than them a year, but were not active. In other words, to report the same levels of happiness brought about by being active, you’d have to make a lot more money.
But Don’t Overdo It!
It’s important to note that this was a correlation study rather than a cause and effect one with dependent and independent variables. In other words, there could be a third factor, like better overall health condition that leads people to be happier and more active. What is more, researchers are not claiming that the more active you are, the happier you’ll be.
Doing too much sport can be damaging to your health. In an interview with the German Die Welt, study author Adam Chekroud spoke of a “U-shaped” relationship between mental load and duration of sport. He and his colleagues established that being physically active contributes to good mental health only when it lasts between 30 and 60 minute, three to five times a week. People who exercised more reported worse mental health than those who were on the inactive side.
On a final note, it seems team sports and recreational activities that involve socializing can also have a more positive effect on emotional health than solitary ones. Fitness, aerobics, and cycling were shown to have quite a positive impact on mental health although they are not categorized as team sports.