Celebrate World Physical Activity Day and Improve Your Mood

By Jonathan Dugas

Sitting may—or may not be—the new smoking, but World Physical Activity Day is today! The theme this year is “Active people!  Happy people!” and we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Physical activity, and more specifically your cardiorespiratory fitness, or how strong your heart and lungs are, remains one of the best predictors of health. But in addition to improving longevity, being active can also impact your mood. In fact that impact on mood might be an additional boost to increasing your lifespan, but we literally need a lifetime to study that. What we do know today from a study published at the end of 2016, however, is that individuals who are less active and have lower cardiorespiratory fitness tend to have a higher risk of developing depression.

But even more recently, in January, researchers from the University of Cambridge in England took a particularly innovative approach to answering this question. They developed an Android app that would help them unpack the relationship between movement and happiness, more than 10,000 men and women downloaded it, and the study went on for 17 months. The point being that the researchers made the effort to gather data on a substantial number of people for a significant period of time, giving their study real impact.

And speaking of impact, it turns out that when people reported being active in the prior 15 minutes, they also reported being happier than when they logged being inactive (sitting, standing, lying down). And just to be clear, like most individuals who are active to some degree, these participants were not vigorous exercisers. Instead, they reported mostly gentle walking and not much vigorous running, cycling or other exercise.

Movement causes us to be happy, problem solved! Well, not so fast  … the way the study was designed can’t tell us if the movement caused the participants to be happy, but the strong association is meaningful, especially when stitched together with other data showing how activity can affect mood.

Choosing to be active has always been good for your heart—now though, we can say with more confidence that it’s also good for your mood. We hope you can take advantage of that on this year’s World Physical Activity Day as well as each and every other day too.

With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active.  With three Ironman finishes and 10 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.

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