Activity tied to greater happiness: Implications for mentoring relationships

By Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times

When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still, according to an interesting new study that used cellphone data to track activities and moods. In general, the researchers found, people who move are more content than people who sit.

For the new study, researchers at the University of Cambridge in England decided to try a different approach. They would look, they decided, at correlations between movement and happiness, that most positive of emotions. In addition, they would look at what people reported about their activity and compare it with objective measures of movement.

To accomplish these goals, they first developed a special app for Android phones. Available free on the Google app store and ultimately downloaded by more than 10,000 men and women, it was advertised as helping people to understand how lifestyle choices, such as physical activity, might affect people’s moods. (The app, which is no longer available for download, opened with a permission form explaining to people that the data they entered would be used for academic research.)

The app randomly sent requests to people throughout the day, asking them to enter an estimation of their current mood by answering questions and also using grids in which they would place a dot showing whether they felt more stressed or relaxed, depressed or excited, and so on.

Periodically, people were also asked to assess their satisfaction with life in general.

After a few weeks, when people were comfortable with the app, they began answering additional questions about whether, in the past 15 minutes, they had been sitting, standing, walking, running, lying down or doing something else.

They also were asked about their mood at that moment.

At the same time, during the 17 months of the study, the app gathered data from the activity monitor that is built into almost every smartphone today. In essence, it checked whether someone’s recall of how much he or she had been moving in the past quarter-hour tallied with the numbers from the activity monitor.

In general, the information provided by users and the data from activity monitors was almost exactly the same.

Of greater interest to the researchers, people using the app turned out to feel happier when they had been moving in the past quarter-hour than when they had been sitting or lying down, even though most of the time they were not engaged in rigorous activity.

In fact, most of the physical activity that people reported was gentle walking, with little running, cycling or other more strenuous exercise.

But the links between moving in any way and feeling happy were consistent for most people throughout the day, according to the data from their apps. It also didn’t matter whether it was a workday or weekend.

The researchers also found that people who moved more frequently tended to report greater life satisfaction over all than those who reported spending most of their time in a chair.

In other words, moving and happiness were closely linked, both in the short term and longer term.

While this study does not establish a causative link between movement and happiness, the size of the study group and the consistency of the findings do indicate that if you get up and move often, you are more likely to feel cheerful than if you do not.


Bottom Line for Mentors and Programs

As the research discussed mentions, movement and positive mood are linked. For many mentors, that may be a challenge if they have a more stationary desk job. This is also true for youth who may spend their time in school without much in the way of activity if gym or sports clubs are not available. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym with your mentee in order to build in more activity. Incorporating walks or activities that allow for movement can provide an opportunity for both mentor and mentee to get out of their chairs and potentially boost their moods together. Mentoring programs can also make a point to emphasize movement-based activities in their mentor trainings, if that is not something already addressed.

To access the full article on the NYT, click here.

To read the research report, click here.