There comes a time in each of our lives where we don’t feel as motivated to exercise as we should. For some people, this inclination to exercise is further decreased by how tiring and unpleasant an intense workout is. Getting that physical activity in is important though, and according to a new study, the answer to getting up and out, and having fun with it, could be as easy as having a friend tag along.

Exercising With People and Greenness 

Participants who took part in exercise at least once over the course of four days (it’s a small study) reported that they were happier, and that they enjoyed exercising more when they were with their spouse, friends, or co-workers, as opposed to when they exercised alone. They also reported higher levels of happiness when the exercise they were doing was outdoors, particularly in green areas. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Boston.

The results of the study, in combination with some more research, could lead to better-focused physical activity guidelines. Researchers would have a basis for encouraging people to be physically active with other people, especially in green areas, thereby allowing them to enjoy it more. “They’re probably more likely to maintain activity if they’re outdoors in green spaces with people, than if they’re home alone,” study researcher Genevieve Dunton, an assistant professor of research at the University of Southern California’s Department of Preventative Medicine, told LiveScience.

The study involved 117 people, ages 27 to 73, who were told to carry cell phones with them for four days. Each day, eight times a day, the cell phones sent surveys to the participants, asking them what they were doing, who they were with, where they were, and how much “greenness” was around them if they were outdoors. They then rated their overall happiness as well as their happiness with the activity they were doing. Out of the total, 84 participants took part in at least one bout of exercise during the study period.      

Do Green Areas And Workout Partners Really Improve Mood? 

Obviously, the study has limitations. Besides the four-day period, the survey that the participants received also didn’t specify what constitutes physical activity, so it could have included everything from housework to biking to walking in the park with family. But other research can support two claims from this study: that exercising with someone can be more motivational, and that being in greener areas improves happiness.

In May, a study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that exercising with a partner was better than exercising alone. The catch, however, was that the exercise partner had to be more physically fit. That’s because the researchers found that people who work out with a physically superior partner were more likely to compare their exercise routine to their partner’s and try to match it, subsequently working out harder. Although people were more likely to work out with others because they found it more fun, the researchers said, the study found no link between exercising with a partner and happiness.

On the other hand, being surrounded by greenness can improve happiness. A study published this week found that people who surrounded themselves with natural environments, as opposed to urban city streets and buildings, were more likely to be in good spirits and showed greater self-control. Specifically, the researchers found that urban landscapes led participants to be more impulsive, while those in natural environments were able to develop a sense of calm that translated into a positive mood.

Taken together, these studies should be convincing enough to at least go exercising in the park, as opposed to city streets. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines recommends that adults, ages 18 to 64, get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, with at least two days spent engaging in muscle strengthening exercises as well. This can be shortened to one hour and 15 minutes of exercise if it’s vigorous intensity. Doing so can reduce risk for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and arthritis.