The Impact of Culture and Sport on Well-Being

Most people will not be surprised that physical activity, such as involvement in sports, increases well-being as well as health. Exercise is known to give you more energy (contrary to what some may expect) and give your brain a boost. But how much is this boost actually worth? And do these effects extend to activities outside the realm of sport?

It turns out, the well-being boost certain activities provide could be worth as much as a pay raise. A study conducted by the Department of Culture in the UK[1] attempted to quantify (monetarily) the impact of sports and culture on our well-being. They studied three areas in particular: arts engagement, library engagement, and sports participation (including team sports and individual fitness activities). The higher the value, the better the activity is for well-being.

Researchers broke the three above categories into 20 more specific activities. The activity most correlated with increased well-being was participation in dance, followed by swimming, and going to the library. Yep, it might come as a surprise, but heading to the library can do you a lot of good. In fact, when compared to the combined groups of “all sports” and “all arts,” frequenting the library comes out on top with the largest score for “life satisfaction”. If reading can benefit your overall well-being as much as exercise, it appears there is truth to the idea that reading is “exercise for your brain”.

So what is increased well-being worth? The study valued frequent library use at $2,216 (converted from the English pound) per person per year, or $185 a month. That is pretty good for an activity that relaxes you, educates you, and is free. In comparison, sport participation was valued at $1,837 per year and arts engagement at $1,767 per year.

Another interesting finding is that team sports increased well-being more than individual sports. This is probably a result of the comradery and social interaction inherent in team sports. Lesson? Bring someone with you next time you decide to hit the gym or go for a jog. Besides enjoying one another’s company, you will be able to hold each other accountable to keep exercising regularly.

So does visiting the library or engaging in other activities actually boost well-being or do they just tend to attract happy people? There is no definitive conclusion, but visiting the library is definitely worth a shot. It’s time to bust out the book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. Also, don’t forget to exercise and stay socially engaged; it might be “worth” as much as working a bit of overtime (and it is certainly more enjoyable).




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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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