Doing These Activities for 30 Minutes a Day Makes You Happier, Study Finds

Taking care of plants is a great way to also take care of yourself, new research shows.

One of the unfortunate ways the coronavirus pandemic has affected countless people across the United States—and the world—is by taking a toll on their mental health and overall happiness. According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of adults in the U.S. reported dealing with mental health issues or substance abuse in June of this year. The CDC also said that symptoms of anxiety disorder were about three times more prevalent than they were at the same time last year, and depressive disorder symptoms were about four times more prevalent. The good news, however, is that there are small things you can do to improve your mental well-being if it has taken a hit in the last couple of months. In a brand new study out of the United Kingdom, researchers found that doing two things in particular for just 30 minutes a day can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even make you happier: exercising and gardening.

Using data collected from the University College London COVID-19 Social Study, researchers examined 55,204 adults living in the U.K. over the course of the country's strict 11-week lockdown period from March 21 to May 31. Using a series of models, questionnaires, and assessment tools, the study aimed to find "the associations between specific activities (or time-use) and mental health and well-being amongst people during the COVID-19 pandemic." While the study has yet to complete the peer review process, the results are fascinating.

woman crouching and planting her plants in a yard

According to the authors, symptoms of depression decreased most significantly in participants who either increased the amount they exercised or the time they spent gardening to 30 minutes or more each day. On the other hand, individuals who upped the amount of time they spent following news about the pandemic or how much they engaged in other screen-based activities, like scrolling through social media or watching television, saw their depressive symptoms increase as a result.

Exercising and gardening were shown to have a similar effect on participants' anxiety as well as how satisfied they were with their life, while COVID news consumption and increased screen time again had the opposite effect, the study found.

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While exercising and gardening had the biggest impact, a handful of others activities were found to have a positive effect on the mental health and overall happiness of participants. So, if those aren't your favorite things to do, you can also try reading, volunteering, or listening to music. And for more on why it's important to take care of your mind as well as your body, check out Here's How Much Improving Your Mental Health Can Extend Your Life.

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