Exercise is a powerful mood booster.
We know that it reduces the amount of stress hormone (cortisol) in the body and that it releases feel-good chemicals into our blood but can exercise make you happier than money?
According to a study of 1.2 million Americans by Oxford and Yale Universities, yes, it can.
Business Insider reported that during the study each participant was asked the same question: how many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days, for example, due to stress, depression or emotional problems?
Researchers also asked about each person’s financial situation as well as how much physical activity individuals had taken over the previous 30 days. Participants could choose from a list that included running, cycling and weightlifting and also included taking care of children and mowing the lawn.
Researchers found that those who regularly exercised had around 35 bad days each year whilst those who were not so physically active had around 50.
Researchers also found that participants who were regularly active often reported feeling as happy as those who earned $25,000 more then them but was inactive.
You might be surprised by the results.
After all, who couldn’t do with a little extra cash at the end of the month? But what’s so heartening about this study is how it highlights the importance of exercise in improving and maintaining mental health and wellbeing. And it’s far easier to lace up a pair of running shoes, hiking boots or join a gym than it is to add $25,000 to a salary. If exercise isn’t your thing, Anna Brech from the Stylist website writes that endorphins peak after just 17 minutes of exercise, so you don’t have to be training for a marathon or working out 7-days a week to feel the benefits.
Researchers also found that social exercising — working out with other people or participating in a team or group — had a greater impact on mental health than exercising alone.
The social benefits of exercise are well documented. A 2007 study published in the British Medical Journal found that women with early-stage breast cancer reported a higher quality of life (even 6-months after the study had ended) from working out in a group compared to similarly diagnosed women exercising alone.
Why Does Exercise Make You Happy?
There’s no doubt that exercise can help improve a person’s mental health and it’s probably never been as important as it is today: depression is now the world’s leading cause of ill health and disability.
Exercise increases the body’s production of serotonin and norepinephrine — neurotransmitters (which along with dopamine) help to regulate mood. The release of these chemicals is often known as the “runners high” but you don’t have to be running or even doing aerobic exercise to feel it — weightlifters, hikers and yogis can experience it, too.
Exercise releases endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers and along with norepinephrine can actually change how the body responds to stress. This is important, too, as it shows the long-term benefits of regular exercise — benefits that don’t stop when the treadmill is turned off or the weights re-racked.
Money and wealth can often give you more options and choices but some problems in life can’t be solved with cash. Exercise can help to clear a muddled head and make it easier to deal with issues that arise during the day. Exercise can create new neurons in the brain which help promote a more balanced, positive mental outlook and encourages clearer thinking. A Harvard Psychology Professor investigating her own “runners high” created an experiment confirming that those who exercised for 30 minutes in the morning, were better equipped to overcome sadness later in the day.
Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of mild depression. Australia’s Black Dog Institute suggests that 16- weeks of exercise could be as effective in treating mild forms of depression as anti-depressants. Some researchers and doctors have gone as far as to suggest that in some cases exercise should be the first thing a medical professional prescribes.
The physical benefits of exercise are important. According to the NHS, it’s been medically proven that those who are active are at a reduced rate of most major diseases including coronary heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, prostate, and breast cancer — amongst others.
Exercise can also keep skin healthier and younger looking, improve muscle strength, help individuals to maintain weight, to increase confidence, strengthen bone, strengthen the heart, increase sports performance, improve fitness and endurance levels and lessen fatigue — amongst many, many other benefits.
It’s hardly surprising then that if we’re feeling mentally and physically well, we’re more likely to be happy.
Why Money Doesn’t Always Make You Happy
We’d probably all like to have more money. For many people, wealth makes life easier. Having to struggle financially, live on a budget or exist in a state of poverty is difficult, exhausting and in some cases it’s life-limiting. Wealth gives choices, options and pleasure.
It can make life easier but it’s not always a guarantee of happiness.
The Irrelevant Investor website explains that the reason “money doesn’t necessarily make you happier is because of the stress that comes with lifestyle creep. The more money you make, the more money you spend, and this is an incredibly difficult thing to keep in check.”
A study in Spain also found that having money makes it harder for people to enjoy simpler pleasures. Writing about the study, Men’s Health added that people ‘savour things that are scarce’ and the more times you experience trips abroad, new cars, watches, fine food, then the less you’ll keep enjoying them.
You might find that difficult to believe but think about how much you really enjoy and appreciate the small luxuries in life we now take for granted.
The Motley Fool points out, too, that the average American is now less satisfied with their lives than they would have been in the 1950s despite earning almost twice as much (inflation included!).
Combine Music and Exercise to Double Your Shot at Happiness
Music is great at lifting our mood, too. Reported on the Psychologies.com website, Bradt & Dileo reviewed 23 studies involving 1500 people found that music helped to lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety in heart disease patients. Incredibly, the act of listening to music has an effect on both the nervous and the limbic system. It’s already been shown that listening to music during a workout can increase athletic performance so it’s an ideal combination — just remember to protect your headphones from sweat damage before you hit the gym or track.
Do you think that exercise can make you happier than money? Or does this smack of something that only rings true if you already have money?