Surprise: The happiest people aren’t those with loaded bank accounts, but rather the people who consistently log regular workouts. After analyzing data about the physical behavior and mental mood of over 1.2 million Americans, researchers at Yale and Oxford found that regular exercise is more important to good mental health than how much money you have.
In the study, which was published in the journal The Lancet, the scientists discovered that people who make regular exercise a priority owned up to feeling bad about 35 days a year, while the non-active participants reported clocking up an additional 18 days per year when they felt stressed or sad.
The participants were also asked about their income, and the researchers found that the participants who were physically active felt as good as those who didn’t exercise in any way, but out-earned them by $25,000 more per year.
The science also backs up what Spartans have been saying for years: People who exercise in groups or participate in sports with a social element, like a Spartan race, exhibit much greater mental health than those who exercise alone.
All types of regular exercise—from mowing the lawn to running a marathon—were shown to reduce negative feelings by around 11 percent. But people who typically got their sweat on in group or team sports boasted an approximate 22 percent reduction in feeling stressed or depressed.
This shouldn’t surprise us, says Josh Rundquist CSCS, a Spartan SGX coach and certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Minneapolis, MN. “Regular exercise increases the likelihood of the body releasing ‘happy’ chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and anandamide,” he examples. “And team sports involve a higher level of human connection than individual sports do. Human connection is an often overlooked aspect of overall human health and wellness.”
We live in a society where isolation—working in a home office or swapping face-to-face time for social interactions through a screen—is the norm. “Team sports, like a Spartan Race, give people a true space to interact with other individuals in a fun yet competitive way,” says Rundquist. It’s a no-brainer that having those kind of interactions should make you happier.
But, FYI, this study doesn’t you need to be exercising 24/7 to boost your mood. Participants who exercised between three and five times a week had better mental health than people who exercised less or more each week, the study authors said in a statement.
There is a point when doing too much can start to be a source of stress in itself. And when exercise starts to mess with your mental state, you’re going to lose the happiness-boosting benefits that got you psyched to join that gym or sign up for that race in the first place.