Gretchen Rubin

Exercise and happiness: A new study surprised me.

I was very surprised to read in the New York Times that recent research, studying twins, indicated that, despite studies that seemed to suggest that exercise was almost as effective in relieving depression as anti-depressants, in fact, the “association of exercise with reduced anxious and depressive symptoms could be explained genetically: people disinclined to exercise also tend to be depressed. One does not cause the other.”

The study was looking at the effect of exercise on symptoms of depression and anxiety. I wonder if exercise might help non-depressed or anxious people with keep more positive moods. In other words, what is the effect of exercise on the moods of non-depressed/anxious people?

It sure seems to me that exercise has a big effect on my mood, and I've heard that from many other people, as well.

When I’m feeling blue, exercise helps a lot. Perhaps that’s because when I’m exercising, I’m distracted and not ruminating on anything that might be upsetting me. Maybe it’s because exercise boosts energy, and feeling energetic helps people feel cheerier. Maybe it’s because I know that exercising will help keep me healthy, so I feel good about doing something that’s good for me. Maybe it’s because just the sheer ticking-an-item-off-the-to-do-list is satisfying. Or maybe it's just that I expect that exercise will make me feel better, and so it does.

The relationship between exercise and happiness is fascinating, so I'm eager to see what studies follow.

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I was thrilled to see that along with Three Beautiful Things, I inspired someone to take on her own happiness project -- check it out at Gleeful.

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