How Little Physical Activity Do You Need To Be Happy?

You know that you need to exercise, right? It is probably the best thing you can do to be healthy. It helps your body fight disease, it improves how your body functions, it improves sleep, it helps produce endorphins, tackles stress … the list is seemingly endless.

But, it can seem so daunting! How little physical activity can we get away with to get any benefit? The answer is not that much. Although, be warned – the feel-good factor may encourage you to do more!

The effect of physical activity on happiness

How much time for exercise can you squeeze into your day? A lack of time is the biggest factor that stops most people from exercising.

Taking a fitness class or going to the gym for an hour is not possible for most people. But, what about a fraction of that?

Penn State University asked 190 students to keep an activity diary for eight days. The students wrote down when they exercised for at least 15 minutes, how they slept, how stressed they were and how they felt.

Their feeling states were divided into four categories:

  1. pleasant-activated feelings such as excitement or enthusiasm
  2. pleasant-deactivated feelings such as satisfaction or relaxation
  3. unpleasant-activated feelings such as anxiety or anger
  4. unpleasant-deactivated feelings like depression or sadness

What did the researchers find?

Physically active students feel more excitement and enthusiasm.

Moderate huh? A definition of moderate exercise

Exercising for at least 15 minutes at a moderate level fills you with excitement and enthusiasm. But, what is a moderate level of exercise?

The World Health Organisation defines it as exercise that requires a moderate effort and which raises your heart rate. Pretty much any activity that warms you up and makes you breathe a little harder. You should be able to talk easily but not sing. Examples include brisk walking, housework, dancing, walking dogs or gardening.

The WHO recommends adults do 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise every week. These should be in sessions of at least 10 minutes. Thirty minutes a day on weekdays is a common recommendation.

This will give you the full health benefits of exercise, not only mood improvement. But, 15 minutes seems to be enough to give you a positivity boost. The Penn State study was relatively small, though, and it only tracked students for 8 days.

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