Physical Exercise Makes Us Happier than Money, Science Claims

Did you know that sport can provide you with more well-being even than money? This fact is confirmed by a study carried out by the Universities of Yale and Oxford. We tell you more in this article.
Physical Exercise Makes Us Happier than Money, Science Claims

Last update: 09 September, 2021

How are physical exercise and well-being related? Do you think sport brings you happiness? In fact, if you were asked right now, what do you think makes you happier, money or sports? What would your answer be?

Research from the Universities of Yale and Oxford has tried to shed light on this question through a cross-sectional study with a sample of 1.2 million American participants.

The study claims that regular sport has a more positive effect on people than an advantageous economic position. Let’s learn some more about this interesting research.

Physical exercise makes us happier than money

Sport makes us happier than money. As we mentioned above, this fact has been confirmed by a study carried out by researchers at Yale and Oxford Universities and published in the journal, The Lancet Psychiatry. The study, which looked at the mental health of participants between 2011 and 2015, involved more than a million Americans.

More specifically, the research was intended to analyze the relationship between mental health and the practice of physical exercise. In the study, the participants counted how many times they’d felt bad emotionally in the last month, either due to stress or emotional problems.

The research found that in people who practiced physical exercise regularly, the number of times they felt bad was significantly lower, compared to people who didn’t practice sports. In addition, these people felt happier than those with more income, but who didn’t practice physical exercise.

Another piece of information according to the study’s findings was that the level of happiness wasn’t proportional to the amount of sport practiced.

Woman exercising

Happiness based on sport

The researchers also reached other conclusions. They discovered that, depending on the sport, the impact on mental health varies. In fact, they found that, in popular team sports, or sports where socializing is required, the impact is even greater.

Followed by team sports, other types of sports that produce more well-being are cycling, aerobic activities, and gym activities.

Well-being based on income

The researchers compared the participants’ reported degree of well-being based on their income. They came to the conclusion that physically active people feel as good as those who don’t play sports, but who earn $ 25,000 more a year.

As you can see, the relationship between money, physical exercise, and well-being is by no means linear.

Physical exercise and well-being: the importance of moderate sport

Another conclusion reached by the researchers was that sport is beneficial for our mental health and offers us a good dose of happiness and well-being. However, it needs to be moderate. Therefore, excessive physical exercise would be counterproductive.

This is demonstrated by their findings. Indeed, the participants who practiced excessive physical exercise (more than recommended) felt as unhappy as those who didn’t participate in sports at all. According to the study, the “ideal” for our mental health would be to do sports between three and five times a week (in sessions of between 30 and 60 minutes each).

Along the same lines, we find another study, led by Bastien Blain and published in the scientific journal, Current Biology in 2019. This states that excessive physical exercise induces cognitive fatigue similar to that caused by excessive intellectual work.

Emotional benefits of physical exercise

You’ve seen how physical exercise and well-being are related, and that the former can lead to the latter. However, more specifically, how does sport benefit us on a mental or emotional level? As a matter of fact, among the great benefits of practicing sports for emotional health we find that sport achieves the following:

  • Prevents and reduces anxiety and stress.
  • Induces states of relaxation.
  • Allows us to develop our self-esteem through self-knowledge.
  • Provides routine and organization.
  • Helps us to work, indirectly, on our cognitive skills such as attention and memory.
  • Increases our discipline. This allows us to overcome challenges and obstacles.

In addition, you shouldn’t forget that, when you play sports, you release endorphins, neurotransmitters, hormones, and various chemicals that induce states of relaxation and pleasure.

This is why sport is so beneficial in preventing (and addressing) conditions of anxiety and stress. Also, it combats apathetic states that are typical of depression. This is because sport activates us both physically and mentally.

Friends running

Sport helps us to disconnect

As you can see, physical exercise and well-being are two concepts that go hand in hand. Regardless of whether sport brings us more or less satisfaction or well-being than money, what’s undeniable is the fact that sport helps us to disconnect and take care of our physical and mental health.

Therefore, if you feel anxious or excessively stressed, or if you want to fight against apathy, choose sport! You don’t have to adopt a very demanding routine. In fact, you could just start with a brisk walk once a week and gradually increase your activity.

“An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.”

-Emil Zapotek-

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  • Blain, B. et al. (2019). Neuro-computational Impact of Physical Training Overload on Economic Decision-Making. Current Biology, 29(19): 3289-3297. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.054
  • Chekroud, S. et al. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(9): 739-746.