While research has long confirmed the strong correlation between exercise and psychological health, a recent study utilizing cellphone data to track activities and moods has confirmed that people who move are overall more content than people who sit.
While previous epidemiological studies have found that people who are active are less prone to depression and anxiety than sedentary people, the majority of these studies solely focused on negative moods. They generally relied on people recalling how they had felt, in addition to how much they had moved or sat in the previous weeks—with little concrete, tangible data to support their recollections.
The new study used a different approach, focusing on correlations between movement and the most positive emotion: happiness. The researchers also looked at what people reported about their respective activities, comparing it with objective measures of movement.
In doing this, the team first developed a special app for Android phones: advertised as helping people understand the ways in which lifestyles choices—like physical activity—might affect moods. As the app sent random requests throughout the day, during which people were asked to enter estimations of their current moods in addition to an assessment regarding their satisfaction with life in general, they also answered additional questions about whether they had been sitting, standing, walking, running, lying down, etc.
The app also asked about the users’ moods at that moment, simultaneously gathering data from the activity monitor built into almost every smartphone available today. Essentially, it checked whether someone’s recall of his/her movement tallied with the numbers from the activity monitor. Overall, the information provided by users and the activity monitors’ data was almost exactly the same.
People using the app also reported greater levels of happiness when they had been moving in the past quarter-hour, rather than when they had been sedentary—although often, they were not engaging in rigorous, strenuous activity. Researchers also found that people who moved more frequently tended to convey greater life satisfaction than those who spent most time in a chair.
The results suggest that people who are generally more active are generally happier, and in the moments during which they are active, they are also happier. While the study does not establish causation, the findings incontrovertibly indicate that if you get up and move often, you are more likely to feel cheerful than if you do not.