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Getting Enough Fruits, Veggies, and Exercise Could Actually Give Your Happiness a Boost

Bicycling logo Bicycling 4/15/2022 Elizabeth Millard
Eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough exercise can boost your overall happiness and wellbeing, according to new research. © Brian Barnhart Eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough exercise can boost your overall happiness and wellbeing, according to new research.

  • Eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough exercise can boost your overall happiness and wellbeing, according to research.
  • This may be because pursuing healthy lifestyle changes now with the belief that it will pay off later was the biggest indicator of life satisfaction.

Ample research has shown that eating fruits and vegetables, and having a regular exercise routine—particularly at moderate-to-high intensity—can improve your mood thanks to lower inflammation and other physical changes.

But those aren’t the only reasons these lifestyle habits can boost wellbeing, according to a recent study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers suggest delayed gratification could play a major role as well.

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Looking at data in about 40,000 households in the U.K., researchers analyzed life satisfaction with a variety of factors, including sports activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Those who had higher levels of both tended to report more happiness overall, and researchers link that to an ability to see these health habits in the long-term.


Video: How to Pick Fruits and Veggies Like a Successful Adult (Buzz60)

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In other words, pursuing lifestyle changes now with the belief that it will pay off later was the biggest indicator of life satisfaction.

“The takeaway message is that having a healthy lifestyle—which was measured in this case by eating fruits and vegetables and [getting] exercise—is good not only for your health but also for your happiness,” lead researcher Adelina Gschwandtner, Ph.D., senior lecturer in economics at the University of Kent, told Bicycling.

This is not obvious, she added, because the assumption is usually that it’s the other way around—happy people tend to eat better and move more. But the data they looked at suggests otherwise.

“We see that the causation goes in the other direction, from lifestyle to happiness,” she said. “Hence, it is really the fruits, veggies, and exercise that make you happier. So, it pays to make the effort to have a healthy lifestyle because in the end, you’ll be happier as a result.” (It’s worth noting that two servings of fruits and three servings of veggies are recommended daily, and 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity are recommended weekly—plus two days of strength training.)

This differs significantly from short-term gratification, she added. For example, making a resolution to eat more fruits and vegetables or to exercise more often when the calendar flips to January—with the aim of maintaining that throughout the year—works against that sense of delayed gratification, since you’re basically looking for a near-term fix.

Gschwandtner suggested that might be why New Year’s resolutions fail so often, because they lack the long-term emotional investment that can drive behavior and the subsequent happiness that goes along with it.

The answer? Don’t wait until you’re happy to make changes that can be a benefit decades from now. Flip the equation and adopt the habits now with the understanding that rewards will come later—perhaps even much later—and you may get an emotional boost along the way.

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