This One Simple Trick Fights Depression and Boosts Happiness

exercise boosts happiness

Would you be interested if I told you that you could cut your risk of depression by 50% just be doing one thing? What if I also told you that the same simple thing can increase your happiness better than drugs? It’s true. Exercise boosts happiness and fights depression more effectively than do drugs from a long-term perspective.

Science continues to confirm what we intuitively know about the mind-body connection, as evidenced by a study of 156 adults who had mild or moderate cases of depression. According to an article by James Clear,

Treating depression with exercise was just as effective as medication, and vice versa. Furthermore, combining the two treatments yielded the same success rate as doing either one individually. But then the researchers decided to track the long–term progress of each patient and this is where the study gets really interesting…

When the researchers followed up with the patients six months later, here’s what they found…

  • In the medication only group, 38% of patients relapsed into depression.
  • In the exercise and medication group, 31% of patients relapsed into depression.
  • In the exercise only group, only 8% of patients relapsed into depression.

When it comes to beating depression over the long–term, this is what makes exercise more powerful than medication. It’s not that medication doesn’t work — it does. But exercise does something that medication doesn’t. It proves a new identity to yourself. Each time you finish a workout, you reap the benefits of an increased sense of self–confidence. The cumulative impact of these “small wins” is enormous. 

Cut Your Risk of Depression by Half With Exercise

OK, Harry – you’re probably asking – how much exercise are we talking about? This is the best part. Researchers determined that for every 50 minutes of exercise added each week, the rate of depression fell by half. So, if you aren’t exercising at all, basically one hour of exercise per week is all it takes. Even the most sedentary person can find an hour in their week to move around a bit. If the subject of the study already exercised five hours per week, he just had to add another 50 minutes to get the same effect.

Another study, this one at the University of Cambridge, confirms that moderate exercise is enough to boost your level of happiness.

Although previous research has already looked at the relationship between exercise and happiness, the results have been mixed, with some studies finding that happier people report exercising more and others finding no relationship at all. However the majority of previous research has mainly used small samples and self-reporting, which can be unreliable, for this new study the team looked at data gathered from more than 10,000 individuals who used a mood-tracking app on their Android phones and data on physical activity passively gathered from smartphone accelerometers.

“Our data show that happy people are more active in general,” commented senior author Dr. Jason Rentfrow, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, “However, our analyses 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.”

You want to really boost your happiness? Get your exercise outdoors. As we discussed recently in our article on the winter blues,

In the 1860s, Henry David Thoreau acclaimed the benefits of what I consider the best prescription for beating depression and the winter blues: a walk in nature. An article in The Atlantic says,

Thoreau extolled (and extolled and extolled—the piece was more than 12,000 words long) the virtues of walking in untamed environments. In the decades since, psychologists have proved him right. Exposure to nature has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress and boost well-being. But scientists haven’t been sure why. Does it have to do with the air? The sunshine? Some sort of evolutionary proclivity toward green-ness?

So, whether you are fighting depression or just need a little boost in your mood, get up and move a little throughout the day. Even if you can’t get outside for a walk at any point during the day, you can try some of these inconspicuous office exercises.

About the author

Harry Hoover

Harry is an author, writer-for-hire, speaker, and publisher of You, Improved. He has written three books: Get Glad - Your Practical Guide To A Happier Life, Born Creative: Free Your Mind, Free Yourself, and Moving to Charlotte: The Un-Tourist Guide.

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