Having a bad day? If you want to turn it around, look no further than your own two feet.
Increasing your level of physical activity, even just a little, can improve your overall life satisfaction — and it can do so almost immediately, according to a recent study in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.
“We found that physical activity has acute, same-day, antidepressive benefits,” says David E. Conroy, Pennsylvania State University kinesiology professor and study coauthor. “And you don’t have to be super fit or work out for three months to see those benefits.”
Conroy’s team asked 128 Penn State students to wear activity monitors for two weeks; at the end of each day, the participants were surveyed on their feelings of life satisfaction. The students were not instructed to add workouts or increase the amount of their activity.
Researchers found that levels of activity and life satisfaction varied from day to day. When participants were more active, they reported a greater sense of well-being that same evening.
The mood-changing effects of exercise are well established. Previous research has shown that working out releases feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. Exercise also boosts self-confidence and dampens anxiety.
These reported benefits have long been tied to traditional forms of aerobic exercise performed with vigor for at least 30 minutes daily.
Conroy’s research shows, however, that physical activity doesn’t need to be so prescriptive to offer rewards.
“You don’t have to run an hour every day for months on end” to get the mood- boosting effect, he says. “You just have to do a little more than you’re used to.”
This is good news for people who may feel intimidated by, or simply uninterested in, starting a full-fledged exercise program.
The key, Conroy says, is to just move. “Even if you can’t exercise, just get out of your chair.”