What Your Phone’s Physical Activity Log Reveals About Your Happiness

December 9, 2020

If your smartphone is always by your side during the day, it records how much you get up and move. Here’s what that data may reveal about your overall happiness, according to the latest research.  

There is a well established link between exercise and good feelings. This finding has been replicated and supported by countless studies in the recent past. However, many of these studies look at periods of time dedicated solely to exercise, like going for a walk or completing a workout.

What about less intentional physical activity, like walking to the fridge or outside to check the mail—how do those movements affect our happiness? A study conducted at the University of Cambridge in England set out to measure exactly that, using activity data collected from smartphones.

Even if we aren’t paying attention to how much we move, our smartphones are. Many of us spend our entire day with our phones in our pockets, dutifully accompanying us from room to room. We’re collecting data about our lives all the time. Researchers had the genius idea to look for a correlation between movement and happiness using that data.

Don’t worry, the researchers didn’t look at your activity data. Instead, they created an app advertised to help users understand how their physical activity levels affect their moods. Of course, the app also explained that any data entered would be used for academic research. Over 10,000 people downloaded it, providing a massive sample size.

The app sent notifications throughout the day asking users to report their current mood at that time. Sometimes they were asked to indicate their satisfaction with life in general. After a few weeks, users were also asked to answer questions about their recent physical activity. Had they been standing? Sitting? Walking? Lying down?

The study lasted for 17 months, during which time the app collected data from the activity monitor software that comes standard in most smartphones. This allowed researchers to confirm the information users reported about their physical activity levels.

Participants didn’t have any illusions about how much they moved each day. Generally, the activity they reported via the app matched up with what their phones recorded. Researchers saw that users consistently felt happier when they had moved around in the last fifteen minutes, compared to when they had been sitting or lying down.

What sets this study apart is that most of the activity recorded was not rigorous exercise, but simply gentle walking. Truly, any type of movement made a noticeable improvement in the participants’ moods. Researchers also noted that people who moved most frequently reported better life satisfaction overall than those who spent more time sitting down.

So, if you’re still working from home or even if you’re back at the office, put your smartphone’s activity monitor to work. Take a look at how many steps your smartphone has recorded, and set a goal to move even more tomorrow. Consider setting reminders to get up and move throughout the day. Maybe even keep a log of how you feel. Whatever you do, make sure to move—you’ll be happy you did.

© Zeamo 2020