Money Can’t Buy Love, But Active Living Brings Joy

Does money bring happiness? That’s a matter of some debate. Though poverty doesn’t do it, research suggests that money isn’t always the best answer for pursuing happiness. In fact, recent research suggests that active living might bring more joy than money.

Exercise and Mental Health

In Lancet, Sammi Chekroud and colleagues published a large study of the association of exercise with mental health. They used a dataset from 1.2 million individuals from the CDC’s BRFSS.

They found a big difference for people who exercised. In fact, they had 43 percent fewer days of depression, stress, and emotional problems than people who didn’t. More exercise wasn’t always better. In this analysis, 45 minutes of exercise three to five times a week seemed to be the sweet spot.

Most importantly though, the link of exercise to good mental health was strong compared to either money or education. With $25,000 less income, Chekroud found that people who exercised regularly were just as happy as those with the higher income but less exercise. Likewise, a person with only a high school education had as many good days as someone with a college degree – if they exercised regularly.

Cause and Effect?

Of course the obvious question is whether this relationship is causal. This is an observational study, so by itself, it doesn’t prove anything about causality. However, we have good experimental data to tell us that physical activity can improve mental health. Randomized, controlled trials show that exercise helps with anxiety, stress disorders, and depression.

Does active living bring you joy? If so, this research offers some reassurance that you’re on the right track. If you’re not sure, we recommend giving it a try. In moderation and in a form that works for you. It might be as good as a little extra cash in the bank.

Click here for the study and here for further perspective.

Joy, photograph © Beth Scupham / flickr

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July 11, 2019