Two major UK universities have carried out the largest ever smartphone study examining the relationship between physical activity and happiness.
The University of Cambridge and The University of Essex have found evidence to support what we all suspected: that even small amounts of physical activity can have a profoundly positive impact on people's moods.
Using smartphones to collect data
10,000 Android phone users began tracking their moods and activity levels on an app developed by the researchers. The results show that regardless of the participants' baseline happiness, their moods improved during physical activity - even if the activity wasn't vigorous enough to be classified as actual 'exercise'.
This way of collecting data en-mass has been hailed as revolutionary because it means participants don't have to report on their moods retrospectively. Throughout this study their activity levels were measured through their phones' inbuilt accelerometers, and they were sent two questionnaires at random times throughout the day to assess how they felt at the time.
In other words, this was real-time data gathering on a large scale in a bid to generate more accurate results.
The activity data was then averaged over the course of each day, so while the researchers didn't know what participants were doing at any given time, they could see that those who had higher levels of activity throughout the day reported a more positive emotional state.
What the scientists made of the results
“Our data shows that happy people are more active in general,” said the paper’s senior author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.
“However, our analysis also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”
Study co-author Dr Gillian Sandstrom from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, added: “Most of us don’t keep track of all of our movements during the day."
“A person might track whether they went for a walk or went to the gym, but when asked, most of them probably wouldn’t remember walking from the desk to the photocopier, or from the car to the office door.”
How to boost your mood throughout the day
Our active working page offers tips on making small, frequent movement throughout the day - even if your job is sedentary. We also recommend sit-stand desks as they offer even more chance to change position, work the leg muscles and boost your mood.