7 Science-Backed Numbers to Improve Your Life

Useful Science is a nonprofit run by 48 grad students and professionals. The authors of this article are Jay Olson from McGill, Kyle Saikaley from the University of Toronto, and Jaan Altosaar from Princeton. Email them at hello@usefulscience.org.

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You shouldn’t need a PhD to reap the rewards of science. Here are seven of our favorite studies relevant to everyday life that show how small changes can have big effects.

We hope this recipe format helps you remember the science!


• 70 decibels—the optimal noise level for creativity

Creativity flows best at 70 decibels — the average noise level in a coffee shop. To figure this out, researchers at the University of British Columbia played a jumble of cafeteria, construction, and traffic sounds while participants performed a creative task. People were most creative with a moderate amount of background noise.

When it was too quiet (like a library) or too loud (like a New York City subway), performance suffered. But, you don’t need a coffee shop for peak creativity: apps like Coffitivity and soundrown can mimic the coffee shop audible ambiance.


30 minutes of sun every morning

sun morning
This half hour of sunlight makes it easier to wake up the next morning. And for best health, sleep 7 to 8 hours per night — no more, no less. Sleeping much shorter or longer is associated with increased mortality and abdominal fat.

People can improve their sleep by controlling their exposure to light. Before bed, limiting light exposure (especially from screens on devices) can improve sleep quality. Controlling light exposure before traveling can also help reduce jet lag.There are awesome apps for waking earlier, limiting light exposure from laptops, and reducing jet lag.

15 minutes to be grateful

One of the easiest ways to improve happiness is by keeping a gratitude journal. For about 15 minutes each week, write down in detail a few things that you are grateful for. Studies have shown that this simple practice can increase happiness and life satisfaction.


20 minutes to meditate

Twenty minutes of meditation can enhance attention span and mood while reducing fatigue and anxiety. And you only need four days of practice! Meditating is also associated with helping people quit smoking, becoming more likely to help others, and reducing behavioral symptoms of ADHD in kids.


23 minutes to resume work after an interruption

Want to destroy your productivity? Get distracted. Workers spend an average of 23 minutes to get back to work after a distraction, according to a University of California, Irvine study.
Even short interruptions of less than 3 seconds can double the number of errors participants make on a task. Browser extensions like LeechBlock for Firefox and Stayfocusd can limit time spent on distracting websites.


5 servings of fruits and vegetables

farmers market
Eating 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day is associated with a 42% reduced risk of mortality (compared to those who eat less than one serving per day). A study in the British Medical Journal reported that consuming apples, blueberries, grapes, and grapefruits was associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Eating fruits and vegetables is also associated with a lower risk of stroke. Maybe we should say “Five apples a day” instead?


6 options to choose from

Ever looked at a complex restaurant menu and ended up just ordering your usual? More choice in life seems better. But, the more options you have, you will likely end up frustrated. In a seminal study from Columbia University, people were more likely to buy products when choosing between fewer (6) rather than more (30) options. Those with less options to choose from were more satisfied with their decisions.

Perhaps Barack Obama is aware of this research: he only wears blue or grey suits to avoid making insignificant decisions.


15 minutes of exercise

Even small amounts of exercise make a difference. A study of over 400,000 people showed that those who exercised an average of 15 minutes per day had an average life expectancy of three years longer than inactive people.

Exercising in vigorous bursts between rest periods (called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT) is especially effective for improving cardiovascular fitness and heart health.

Are these practical findings valuable to you? Sign up for our Curated Useful Science weekly email at usefulscience.org/about to get more science-backed tips.

(Did we get something wrong? Did we miss anything? Email us at hello@usefulscience.org, Tweet us @usefulsci, or visit us at usefulscience.org. We’d love to keep the conversation going!)

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