Almost Any Kind of Physical Activity, Not Just Exercise, Makes You More Likely to Be a Happy Person

People who move in any way tend to be happier than those who stay still, a new study finds.

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You've heard it before: One of the most effective ways to bust out of a blue mood is to get some exercise. (Ugh.) But that exercise doesn't have to be the grueling, intense workout you're probably picturing in your head right now. In fact, even the slightest amount of movement is associated with a better mood, according to an innovative new study.

In a January 2017 study published in PLoS One, researchers found that people who are more physically active — that's movement of any kind, not just exercise — tend to be happier than people who spend most of their time sitting.

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Our favorite part? The movement-happiness connection has less to do with how long or intensely you're moving and more to do with how frequently you're moving. So if you're not the biggest fitness fanatic, fret not! Even the simplest physical activities, such as walking, standing, or even fidgeting, (yes, fidgeting!) were linked to a better mood.

The University of Cambridge researchers used a novel approach to conduct this study: They had more than 10,000 participants use an Android smartphone app to track their happiness levels during various tasks and physical activities while they went about their daily lives. The app, which is no longer available, was designed specifically to study happiness and behavior by allowing users to track and quantify their happiness through short surveys, The New York Times reports.

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The app randomly prompted the participants to rate their moods by answering questions and sliding a scale toward different emotional adjectives, which were then plotted on a grid:

After a few weeks of just tracking their moods, participants unlocked additional surveys to track physical activity, location, and social interaction. Physical activity was also separately measured by the phones' sensors to see if participants accurately recalled how much they had moved, and, for the most part, the participants' self-reported physical activity matched the phone sensors' data. Cool, right?

After 17 months of tracking, the researchers analyzed the collected data and found that participants felt happier after they'd done any type of physical activity in the past 15 minutes. The most common physical activity among the participants? "Gentle walking." We can totally get down with some gentle walking.

Like any study, this one has some limitations, but it can be added to an ever-growing stack of research that links physical activity with mental wellbeing; not to mention that it's an excellent example of how smartphones may be used to conduct large-scale health studies in the real world instead of a research lab setting.

Moral of the story? Get moving, get happy.

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