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When you live a sedentary life, any exercise can boost your mood, new study shows

If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you don’t have to spend hours at the gym in order to boost your mood. A new study suggests that even a little exercise is enough to make you feel a lot better.

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Millions of children, teenagers and adults are leading a sedentary life with some calling the high rate of inactivity “alarming” as people aged 25 to 34 and 45 to 64 are the most likely to turn to an inactive lifestyle.

And this couch potato mentality puts people at risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and obesity. But besides this, people that spend their lives sitting down are also facing higher rates of depression and anxiety. And to fight against these psychological perils of a sedentary life, even a little bit of exercise is beneficial, a new study argues.

Researchers from Connecticut University say that you don’t have to spend hours at the gym or work up a dripping sweat to improve your mood and feel better about yourself. Simply getting out of your chair and moving around can actually reduce depression.

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“We hope this research helps people realise the important public health message that simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being,” says Gregory Panza, a graduate student in UConn’s Department of Kinesiology and the study’s lead author.”Our results indicate you will get the best ‘bang for your buck’ with light- or moderate-intensity physical activity.”

The research team looked at 419 generally healthy middle-aged adults and tracked their movement for four days with the help of accelerometers placed on their hips. Before starting the experiment, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about their daily exercise habits, psychological well-being, depression level, pain severity, and the extent to which pain interfered with their daily activities.

Looking at the data, scientists found that the more they set around, the less happy people were. When looking at self-reported well-being levels, the participants that had the most sedentary life, reported the least amount of happiness.

Physical activity had a positive impact on the participants’ well-being but the effect depended on the intensity of the exercise. For instance, people who participated in light-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of depression. People who participated in moderate-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of pain severity.

The highest levels of well-being were reported for those that got involved in light activities. This suggests to scientists that a different attitude should prevail when it comes to addressing the psychological outcomes of a sedentary life.

“The ‘more is better’ mindset may not be true when it comes to physical activity intensity and subjective well-being,” says Panza. “In fact, an ‘anything is better’ attitude may be more appropriate if your goal is a higher level of subjective well-being.”

And when it comes to hard or intense physical activity, the impact recorded was neutral. And this is good news for both couch potatoes as-well-as fitness enthusiasts. While people with a sedentary lifestyle could be turned off by working out a sweat, those that enjoy hard workout do not have to be concerned about a potential negative impact it might have on them.

“Recent studies had suggested a slightly unsettling link between vigorous activity and subjective well-being,” says Beth Taylor, associate professor of kinesiology and another member of the research team. “We did not find this in the current study, which is reassuring to individuals who enjoy a vigorous activity and may be worried about negative effects.”

The findings of the study could encourage couch potatoes to do more in order to improve their well-being as only a little bit of exercise can have a positive effect on one’s state of mind. The study was published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

Sylvia Jacob