Why physical activity is the secret to happiness

Happiness is what we live for. It’s why we get out of bed every morning. Why we go to work, crave entertainment, and travel the world. It’s the reason we search for love and fulfillment. It fuels our hopes and dreams. 

Yet, a lot of people aren’t all that happy. Depression rates in Canada are high and continue to rise, particularly among youth. Antidepressant use is widespread. Waitlists to see professionals get longer by the day.

Despite our best efforts, happiness remains elusive. It’s hard to find and even harder to hold on to. Like sand through our fingers, it always seems to slip away.  


Not surprisingly, a lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to figure this whole happiness thing out. In the 1960s, renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung stated that the five key elements to happiness are: 

1. Good physical and mental health.  

2. Good personal and intimate relationships.

3. The ability to perceive beauty in art and nature.

4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.

5. A philosophic or religious point-of-view that makes it easier to cope with life changes.

Of course, we know physical activity is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health, so it’s not surprising that the two are related. Since that time, many more studies have been conducted to put the pieces of the happiness puzzle together. And, while many have found interesting results and spawned new theories, one factor consistently appears time and time again—physical activity


The evidence that happiness and physical activity go hand-in-hand is overwhelming. 

Research around the world has shown that moving more promotes happiness, while being inactive contributes to unhappiness. This relationship has been confirmed in people of all ages, from young children to older adults, regardless of where you’re from. 

A Canadian study found that spending leisure time being active is linked to happiness both in the short and long-term. A US survey found that people who take part in outdoor activities claim to be happier in almost all aspects of their lives. An examination of 15 European countries confirmed increasing physical activity was linked to higher levels of happiness. 

It’s also important to note that this doesn’t just apply to marathon runners and Crossfit fanatics. A recent study published in the Public Library of Science found that even small amounts of physical activity can have a positive impact on happiness. 


Of course, the reason physical activity is associated with happiness isn’t mysterious. Physical activity does so many good things that make us feel better, in body and in mind. Regular heart-pumping activity:

  1. Reduces risk of chronic disease 
  2. Boosts mood and energy levels  
  3. Improves sleep quality 
  4. Promotes feelings of calm and well-being 
  5. Serves as a pleasant distraction (another way of saying it’s fun)
  6. Increases productivity, efficiency, and job performance 
  7. Builds confidence and self-esteem 
  8. Lessens pain, inflammation, and muscle tension 
  9. Encourages brain health 
  10. Relieves stress 

Physical activity has the ability to positively affect almost every aspect of your life, from your career to your relationships. The fact that active people tend to lead longer, healthier, and happier lives almost goes without saying.


The take-home message is simple: if you want to be happier, try being more active. 

Obviously, a lot of factors contribute to a person’s happiness—physical activity isn’t a magic bullet or a secret elixir that’s guaranteed to work. Yet, the evidence is clear. If you really want to be happier, moving more is almost certainly part of the solution.  

You might not be happy about hearing it. But you will be, if you listen.