Need a mood boost? Step away from the chocolate or wine and grab a skipping rope. You’ll be surprised how good you feel.
Bad day at work? Instead of de-stressing with a glass of wine, lace up the runners and take your frustration out on the pavement. It may not sound as enticing, but according to Penn State researchers, being more active than usual (either by starting to exercise or extending your normal exercise routine by a few minutes) boosts your satisfaction with life. However, while this sounds great in theory, finding the time and energy to exercise when we’re stressed, under pressure, or going through a major change in our life is easier said than done. But trust me, if you do keep moving through the difficult times, you’ll feel a lot better for it.
How does exercise improve your well-being?
Exercise is crucial to good health and as early as the 1970s, observational studies have shown that people who exercise are not only less likely to be depressed than those who did not exercise, but they are also less likely to become depressed in the future. If you have ever gone for a walk or run when you’ve been stressed, you would have noticed an almost instant boost in mood post-exercise. This mood boost occurs because exercise increases the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and norepinephrine, and subsequently boosts mood. Post-exercise endorphins are released and they tend to minimise the discomfort of exercise, as they bind to opioid receptors in neurons, blocking the release of neurotransmitters that promote pain and instead producing a feeling of euphoria.
People who exercise at least two days per week are happier and have significantly less stress than people who don’t exercise. In addition, these benefits increase with more frequent exercise with each additional day of exercise in a given week continuing to boost energy levels. As little as 20 minutes of exercise could improve your mood for several hours after you finish a work out. Any movement is better than nothing though so work with the time you have.
But why is exercise so hard to do?
So, I know what you’re thinking – if exercise is so good for well-being, why is it so hard to do it? There are a few reasons why starting and maintaining a regular exercise program is so difficult to do. Many of us start exercising, not because we want a mood boost, but because we want to change our body in some way. Perhaps we want to lose weight or tone up so that we’re ready for the lighter summer clothes. In this circumstance, the main motivator for getting active is the dissatisfaction we have with our bodies. When we realise our bodies aren’t changing the way we would like or the results are coming as quickly as we would hope for, we throw in the towel.
When starting a new exercise program, many of us also go too hard, too soon and end up feeling sore and sorry for ourselves after the session, as well as for the next couple of days (or weeks or months if we have injured ourselves). It’s important to respect your body and realise that if you have been sedentary for a number of weeks, months or evenly years, then you need to start slowly with a moderate exercise plan and build up from there. It can take months to condition and strengthen the body to a level when you start to see results. Push yourself too hard, too soon and your body will start to crumble and the injuries will leave you back where you started.
The best way to motivate yourself to get moving is to focus on the mood boost that exercise brings – this provides us with the near-instant gratification so many of us are after and is the perfect driver for keeping us moving. You’ll notice the biggest impact on mood if you get moving when you’re out of sorts, stressed or fatigued. It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to combat fatigue and negative mood, is to get moving. Try it, I’d love to hear how you went.
Do the mental health benefits of exercise motivate you to exercise?