Survey proves clear link between physical activity and wellbeing

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  • Life satisfaction, happiness and feelings of being worthwhile are higher for people who are active, while levels of anxiety are lower.
  • People who are more active score better
  • Those who volunteer in sport also score highly
  • The best scores are achieved by those who are active and volunteer

A study by Sheffield Hallam University has found there is a clear link between physical activity and mental wellbeing.

Commissioned by Sport England, the University’s Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) analysed the results from the Active Lives Survey which is based on responses from more than 50,000 people over the age of 16 across England.

It is the first time the relationship between engagement in sport and physical activity and the strategy outcomes of mental wellbeing, individual development and social and community development have been investigated.

Survey respondents were invited to score themselves, out of ten, for mental wellbeing – how satisfied they were with their lives, how happy they were, how worthwhile they felt their life was and how anxious they felt. In all four of these, people who were physically active scored better than those who were inactive. And greater activity was linked to even better results.

The analysis also showed that people who are active feel more able to achieve their goals and were more trusting of their local community. Volunteering was also linked to better outcomes, with people who both volunteer and are active scoring best.

The results echoed a recent study by the charity Mind – funded by Sport England – which confirmed physical activity’s benefits to mental wellbeing. Mind’s two-year landmark study showed that people with mental health problems who are more regularly active have better mental wellbeing.

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said: “I am delighted that this research provides further evidence of the direct link between participating in sport or physical activity and the positive impact it has on mental wellbeing. We are working across government to encourage even more people to get active and reap the benefits to their physical and mental health. with Sport England investing £250 million in this area.”

Dr Larissa Davies who led the analysis on behalf of SIRC at Sheffield Hallam, said: “We know that sport and exercise has its benefits but this is the first time we have been able to link the positive impact sport and physical activity has on mental wellbeing and individual and community development. I hope these results encourage those with sedentary lifestyles to engage in more physical activities.”

Sport England’s Insight Director, Lisa O’Keefe said: “We now have conclusive evidence that sport and physical activity are clearly linked to mental wellbeing. The benefits come from more than just playing in a team or joining a club – any kind of physical activity can boost mental wellbeing, from swimming to walking and pilates to dance.”

What did the survey ask?

The Active Lives Survey includes four measures of mental wellbeing:

Life Satisfaction

‘Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? ‘
Worthwhile

‘Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in life are worthwhile?’
Happiness

‘Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?’
Anxiety

‘Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?’

And two measures of development:

Individual development is measured in terms of ‘self-efficacy’:

‘I can achieve most of the goals I set myself‘

Social and community development is measured in terms of social trust:

‘Most people in our local area can be trusted’