This leisure activity could be as beneficial as a trip to the gym

A trip to the movies could be equal to a light exercise at the gym.

While munching down on buttery popcorn and drinking a large fountain soda isn’t part of the in-theater workout regiment, going to the movies is roughly the equivalent to 40 minutes of low-impact cardio, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University College London found that a cinematic experience that amps up moviegoers’ heart rate is similar to a light cardiovascular workout. The team had more than 50 people wear sensors to track heart rate and skin reactions during a viewing of Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin.” Researchers compared the results to a group of participants who spent the same allocated time reading.

The study, which was in partnership with Vue Cinemas, found the participants’ heart rates rose 40% to 80% higher than the normal resting heart rate for about 45 minutes of the movies. A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges between 60 to 100 beats per minute, so viewers during the movie’s heart rate ranged from 96 to 160 beats per minute.

The increased heart rate is due to three unique elements of viewing experiences: increased activity, focus, and the cultural element, according to researchers. The heart rates observed during the viewing are comparable to going for a slight stroll.

“Cultural experiences like going to the cinema provide opportunities for our brain to devote our undivided attention for sustained periods of time. At the cinema specifically, there is nothing else to do except immerse yourself,” said Dr. Joseph Delvin, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL.

“On top of this, our ability to sustain focus and attention plays a critical role in building our mental resilience, because problem-solving typically requires a concentrated effort to overcome obstacles.”

“In other words, our ability to work through problems without distraction makes us better able to solve problems and makes us more productive. In a world where it is increasingly difficult to step away from our devices, this level of sustained focus is good for us.”

In addition to the physical benefits, researchers also discovered that two hours in front of the big screen induced an emotional reaction from respondents. More than half (55%) of viewers said they found the screening therapeutic and it helped uplift their spirits. Seventy-five percent said they felt fully absorbed by the flick that they forgot about everything around them, while nearly 45% said they felt empowered once the movie was over.

The Mayo Clinic recommends getting at least 160 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week. In general, the goal is to aim for about 30 minutes of moderate activity every day while trying to reduce sitting time as well.