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Exercise makes us happier than money, says science

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Anna Brech
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A female kickboxer in training

A new study finds that exercise brings the same kind of happiness as a huge spike in yearly earnings

The feel-good link between exercise and happiness is so potent, it outweighs a £19,000 hike in salary – according to the results of an intriguing new study. 

Researchers from Yale and Oxford universities collected data on the physical activity and emotional wellbeing of over 1.2 million Americans (as reported via Business Insider). 

Participants were asked, “How many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days, for example, due to stress, depression, or emotional problems?” 

They also provided information on their income. 

The results, published in the journal The Lancet, show that non-active people felt bad for an average of 18 days more than those who regularly worked out. 

More compelling, however, was the fact that physically active participants felt just as good as those who didn’t work out, but earned $25,000 a year (around £19,000) more than them. 

A woman rock-climbing

There are two important takeaways from this data. 

First, it supports research that shows you don’t have to do a lot of hardcore exercise to reap the associated happiness benefits

Given that endorphins peak around 20 minutes into exercise, just 17 minutes of walking a day can have a dramatic effect on your overall health and wellbeing. 

In this latest study, low-level activities such as lawn-moving and housework still made the difference when it came to mood levels between active and non-active participants.

Secondly, while the link between exercise and mood is well-documented, this is the first time money has been brought into the equation.

Previous studies show that money can indeed bring happiness in the form of greater life satisfaction – although this effect plateaus for salaries around the £58,000 a year mark. 

In other words, a higher income makes us happier to a point – but the impact of exercise can outstrip this, even with all the freedom and comforts that money brings. 

Good news, then, for fans of Stylist Strong: a new boutique fitness studio launching in London this May, with  classes, events and talks based around fitness and strength-training. 

Images: Getty 

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.