Had a bad day? Most doctors might prescribe anti-depressants. However, extending your normal exercise routine by a few minutes may be the solution, according to Penn State researchers, who found that people’s satisfaction with life was higher on days when they exercised more than usual.
Besides its physical health benefits, exercise is often said to help people simply feel good. And a growing number of studies are showing that these mood-boosting effects may even fight clinical depression.
“We found that people’s satisfaction with life was directly impacted by their daily physical activity,” said Jaclyn Maher, graduate student in kinesiology. “The findings reinforce the idea that physical activity is a health behavior with important consequences for daily well-being and should be considered when developing national policies to enhance satisfaction with life.”
The combination of aerobic exercise and strength training generally elevates mood to a greater extent than aerobic exercise alone. Strengthening exercises counter the muscle loss that interferes with daily life as people age. “Psychological improvements might coincide with these physical improvements,” said the researchers.
The team examined the influence of physical activity on satisfaction with life among emerging adults ages 18 to 25 years because this population’s sense of well-being appears to worsen more quickly than at any other time during adulthood.
“Emerging adults are going through a lot of changes; they are leaving home for the first time and attending college or starting jobs,” said Maher. “As a result, their satisfaction with life can plummet. We decided to focus on emerging adults because they stand to benefit the most from strategies to enhance satisfaction with life.”
The researchers recruited two groups of college students at Penn State. The first group, consisting of 190 individuals, entered information into a diary every day for eight days. The second group, consisting of 63 individuals, entered information into a secure website every day for 14 days. Both groups answered questions aimed at determining participants’ satisfaction with life, physical activity and self-esteem. The personalities of all participants in the first group were assessed at the outset of the study using the Big Five Inventory short form.