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How Moving Makes Us Happier

By Sandy Schroeder

You may already know what to do when your mood takes a dive. If you head out for a run or take a brisk walk, everything seems better.

New research reported in the New York Times tells us how this works. Researchers found as little as 10 minutes of any type of exercise a day can cheer us up.

Many past studies have studied the effects of exercise on depression and anxiety. They said physically active people have a lower risk of developing depression than people who never exercise.

University of Michigan researchers wanted to take these studies further looking at psychologically healthy people in a wide range of different people.

Their research reported in The Journal of Happiness Studies started with a review of 500,000 people ranging from teens to seniors in 23 different happiness/exercise studies published since 1980. The overall conclusion strongly linked exercise to happiness. Each study showed a positive correlation with these features.

Exercise types did not matter - People were happy when they walked, jogged or attended a yoga class.

Just 10 minutes made a difference - People who exercised once or twice a week reported being much happier than those who never exercised.

More movement worked even better - Researchers said people who were active 30 minutes a day were about 30 percent more likely to be happier than non-exercisers.

More Research to Do

Overall, the researchers felt exercise and happiness were strongly linked, but more studies are needed to know exactly what is happening. Here are some of the things to consider.

Defining happiness is tricky - One person's great day may be just an average day for someone else, which makes it harder to line up all of the results as clear data points.

Social factors may be involved - The effects of exercise on happiness may be influenced by the social interaction at the gym or out on the courts with friends.

Happy people may exercise more - Positive people may be more likely to make exercise part of their regular routine. In that case, exercise and happiness simply follow parallel paths.

Exercise may affect the brain -  Other research has found positive links to brain cells and chemistry, which may point to a remodeling of the brain contributing to happier feelings.

Why Not Run Your Own Tests?

You could do your own research by varying your patterns of exercise. If you already exercise, see what happens when you increase or decrease your walks, runs and workouts. Monitor a few weeks and see if you can find patterns. You might watch how activity seems to affect your family, too. From what we see, it looks like we will all be happier if we are out there doing more.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Boulder, Colo.

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