Regular physical activity is a huge boost to mental wellbeing, on par with a hefty raise.
Instead of logging extra hours at work in hopes of getting a raise, maybe you should hit the gym instead, as it could make you just as happy as that extra money. An interesting new study, published in the Lancet, found that people who are physically active have a greater sense of wellbeing than those who are inactive – and that active individuals feel as good as inactive people who earn $25,000 more per year.
Researchers from Oxford and Yale Universities used data gathered from more than 1.2 million Americans. They were asked, "How many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days, for example, due to stress, depression, or emotional problems?"Participants were also asked about their exercise habits and were able to choose from 75 diverse physical activities, including mowing the lawn, doing housework and childcare, running, weightlifting, and cycling. The researchers found that people who exercise regularly feel bad for an average of 35 days per year, whereas inactive people feel bad for an additional 18 days. From the study:
"Individuals who exercised had 43 percent fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and sociodemographic characteristics. All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden."
Social physical activities (i.e. team sports) had an even more positive effect, although cycling ranked highly. (I wonder if that's because it takes place outdoors, which is always a mood booster.)
It is possible to get too much exercise. From Business Insider's writeup on the study, "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." The ideal amount seems to be three to five training sessions per week, lasting 30 to 60 minutes each.
But the takeaway should be that any amount helps, so don't stress about hitting that perfect balance: "All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden than not exercising."