A recent paper published in the Journal of Economic Psychology by Haifang Huang and Brad Humphreys asks an interesting question; does participating in physical activity improve reported happiness? The authors' results should be of interest to our Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport as we approach the budget as the research finds that individuals are more likely to participate in physical activity if living in an area that has greater access to fitness and sports establishments. Those individuals with this access report higher life satisfaction. The research concludes that this correlation between participation in physical activity and happiness, when a number of controls are made, relates to the effect of physical activity on health.
Using data from the U.S the authors look at this relationship across genders too and conclude that “both men and women gain happiness from participating in physical activity, and men appear to benefit more”.
While there may be cultural effects at work, meaning that this research is not wholly applicable to other countries, investment in sporting organisations appears to have a dual health benefit; one physical, in that it helps to combat obesity and one mental, in that access to sporting organisations makes us happier.
The lesson is perhaps that spending on sporting institutions is not just about entertainment, it’s about public health, both physical and mental, in addition to viewing sporting institutions as a vehicle to grow social capital and create positve externalities for communities.