In one of the only studies of its kind, the mental benefits of track driving are obvious.
In news that will surprise not a single gearhead, we now have some scientific proof that taking your car for a day out at the track makes you happier than a session at the gym. Encouragingly, the researchers didn't use exotic machinery that would cost the earth for this test - they put people behind the wheel of Abarth's F595, 595 Esseesse, and 595 Competizione models.
In the UK, this sporty hatchback starts at around $26,000 - that's much more than a gym membership, but can you really put a price on your happiness? To make sure this wasn't a completely bogus experiment, Abarth teamed up with Loughborough University, the world's leading Sports Science university.
The experiment, known as the Circuit Training Mood Test, was conducted over the course of a single day at the Mallory Park Race Circuit. Using equipment like heart rate monitors, advanced facial recognition technology, and a medical grade wearable wristwatch, participants also had to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire. Results were taken from both driving and being driven in the Abarths at the track by a professional driver, and when partaking in a set of cardio and resistance-training exercises at the university.
Once the results were tallied, researchers found that people were, on average, 59% happier driving the Abarth at the track than doing the workout. Participants found cardio-type exercises particularly mind-numbing; here, they were 116% happier caning the cars compared to doing cardio.
The gap between weight training and track driving was much smaller, with participants being 4% happier with the latter. What about experiencing a hot lap from the passenger seat? In this case, participants found 77% more enjoyment than a combined cardio/weight-training workout.
"It is widely reported about how important physical activity is, not only for a person's physical wellbeing but also their emotional state," said Dr. Dale Eslinger, reader in Digital Health, who led the experiment. "However, we know much less about how driving - specifically on a racetrack - can impact an individual's mood. The preliminary data indicates that while both the track and gym activity had positive emotional benefits, in this case, the thrill of the track driving element undoubtedly came out on top in boosting the mood of the attendees."
To be fair, the Abarth 595 with its 165-horsepower engine and Koni rear suspension is an especially rorty hatch, and we're not sure the results would've been the same had a Toyota Prius been used instead. The Fiat 500 Abarth that cost just over $20,000 was sadly discontinued in America, but thankfully, there are many affordable sports cars out there to enjoy, from the Chevy Camaro to the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The next time you're looking for a natural high, it might be worth your while to skip the gym and head for the nearest track instead.
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