What Is the Healthiest Activity You Can Do? (the answer surprised me)

Recently I watched a fascinating talk by Daniel Pink in which he asked audience members to guess the activity he described. You can play the same guessing game if you’d like; the benefits are below:

  • It delivers a significant positive improvement to your temperament.
  • It increases sensitivity to others and makes you more willing to cooperate.
  • It makes you more willing to do good deeds.
  • It calms your heart rate.
  • It boosts endorphin levels.
  • It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication.
  • It makes it easier for your body to fight infections.

Do you have your best guess?

The top answer is exercise. But it’s the runner-up that is interesting to me. According to a number of studies, the second-healthiest activity you can do–and the answer that applies to the benefits on the above list–is choral singing. 

The key, according to Pink, is synchronization. He cites a study about rowing individually versus rowing in sync with other people (even with the same exact amount of exertion per person). There’s something about doing an activity completely in sync with other people–not just simultaneously, but in synchronization–that makes us feel better and makes us be better people.

I’m riveted by this premise. Of course I immediately thought of game design–I was trying to think of any board games that have you doing the exact same thing at the exact same time as other players. I’m sure there must be such a game, but I couldn’t think of one. There are some that come close (like The Mind), but it’s still not the same level of synchronization as choral singing or rowing.

In fact, I’m not sure if there are any activities I do on a regular basis that offer perfect synchronization (I don’t think watching TV counts, though I do like going to movies with other people). So I want to add one. I’m not a singer, so choral singing isn’t the answer for me. But I’ll find something. Maybe I’ll combine exercise and synchronization. Or maybe cooking.

Do you do any activities involving perfect synchronization in your life, where you’re doing the exact same thing as someone else at the same time? Pink’s talk is below, timestamped at the place where he discusses this subject.

10 thoughts on “What Is the Healthiest Activity You Can Do? (the answer surprised me)”

  1. That’s fascinating. I’ve tried choral singing a few times (my partner loves it), but always feel outclassed by other singers. We did make side-by-side risottos once, which involved constant stirring and adding of broth. Not precisely synchronous, but close. It felt synchronous anyway.

    In terms of game design, I can’t think of an existing game either. Is there a dexterity game that involves two players delicately moving/manipulating something together for a shared benefit?

    • I like that you tried synchronizing risottos. 🙂

      Yeah, my mind went to dexterity games too. I can’t think of any that do that, but perhaps there should be one!

  2. Jamey,

    What a wonderful video. I watched it in its entirety and have offered a fellow designer some ideas for a game he’s creating in which this social-cum-hard science research will prove valuable.


  3. I guess that partner dancing would also work. 🙂

    I’ve recently taken up swing, which is great fun! I used to do cuban salsa, but that required more stillness, and I prefer to bound around.

  4. For a synchronized game, what about La Boca? You’re working with your partner to communicate your side of the image and listening to them at the same time to build together as quickly as you can.

  5. I have read, I believe in Super Better, a book about gaming and health outcomes, that when you are boardgaming you are really paying attention to someone else’s brain state, and that if I recall correctly, you can sync brain waves! It is my hypothesis that this is why we can feel so intimate with our gaming partners even if we have just met them! And why we connect with them without knowing much else about them….our theory of mind literally puts us in their brains as we try to figure out what they are going to do…very interesting stuff to me.


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