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The science-backed way to improve your mood


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Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

When it comes to exercise, everyone knows that endorphins make you happy. (Thanks, Elle Woods.)

But it turns out that those who get up and move around —even just a tiny bit—are more likely to be happier immediately than those who are glued to their desks all day, according to a new study published in PLoS One.

And while this isn’t the first time science has shown the benefits of movement, most studies have asked participants to recall how they felt and how much they moved in the previous week or month. This most recent study, however, tracked the correlation between happiness and movement, on an hour-by-hour basis—using an app developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge in England.

Throughout the day, the app would send requests out—asking the nearly 10,000 participants to map out their emotions on a graph, including whether they felt more stressed or relaxed, depressed or excited, and so on.

Once the participant got more comfortable with the app, the questions expanded to what their most recent movement was (running, walking, lying, etc.), how they felt about their day, and their current mood.

And—just in case people embellished their movement, just a tad—the app also took data from the activity monitor that’s built into almost every smartphone today. (In general, most of the info checked out.)

Those who had been moving in the previous 15 minutes were happier than those who had been sitting or lying down.

What were the findings? “The frequency with which people physically move throughout the day, even if that movement is not rigorous exercise, is associated with both physical health and happiness,” the study’s authors state in PLoS One. And those who had been moving in the previous 15 minutes were happier than those who had been sitting or lying down.

So, while a quick burst of running can definitely improve your mood in the short-term, even reminding yourself to stay moving throughout your day can help bring happiness to your life. (Brief walk around the office, anyone?)

The researchers are quick to point out that this might just be a classic case of chicken or the egg—i.e. do happy people move more, or does movement cause happiness?—it can’t hurt to add some leg-stretching reminders to your to-do list, right?

If you need an excuse to get up from your desk, check out the Swedish tradition of fika—it’s like hygge, but for the office. And be sure to whip up one of these deliciously warm anti-inflammatory beverages while you take a break.