Being more physically active makes people more extraverted, conscientious, agreeable and open to new experience, new research finds.
A few of the benefits of these personality changes include:
- Higher conscientiousness is linked to more success in life,
- more extraverted people experience more positive emotions,
- and being open to experience is linked to creativity and intelligence.
These changes to personality have been documented over years and decades.
Naturally, remaining sedentary is linked to the opposite pattern in personality.
Sedentary people have the tendency to become less agreeable, more introverted, less open to experience and less conscientious.
The good news is that only relatively small amounts of exercise are enough, over the years, to lead to positive changes to personality.
The study followed over six thousand middle-aged people for over two decades.
All completed personality surveys and gave details of how much physical activity they did.
There are all sorts of ways that exercise is probably linked to personality change.
The study’s authors write:
“A physically inactive lifestyle has a range of long-term
biological, health and cognitive outcomes, such as higher risk of frailty, worse mental and physical health and declines in
memory and executive functions.
Such outcomes, in turn, may have a long-term impact on personality, such as reductions in the tendency to be self-disciplined and organized or to be exploratory and curious.
Indeed, cognitive decline, greater frailty, and more
depressive symptoms and disease burden have been associated with reduced conscientiousness and openness over time.”
Depression is also linked to an inactive lifestyle, they write:
“It is possible that the long-term functional limitations and depressive symptoms that result from a physically inactive lifestyle may be reflected in a lower tendency to experience positive emotions, be enthusiastic, and be agreeable.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality (Stephan et al., 2018).