When you’re feeling less than stellar, it’s tempting to lounge on the couch, turn on Netflix, and waste away the day. And while we all need time to be zombies in front of the TV, remaining stationary won’t positively impact our feelings. Instead, the act of moving your body — from walking to yoga — has a significant impact on our mental health and happiness. As we look ahead to 2022, finding ways to be active is a well-rounded resolution since it benefits not only our bodies but our emotional health, too.
Here, we explore how working out can (and does!) boost your mood, along with recommendations for ways to engage in exercise ASAP:
How the mind and body are connected
After you go for a brisk stroll outside with a friend or while listening to the sounds of nature by yourself, how do you feel? Likely, rejuvenated and more in touch with the world around you. Or, say you finally master a knees-free push-up — do you feel empowered? No matter how big or small, conquering physical feats, getting our blood pumping and exerting energy improves our mental state. Many studies illustrate that those who exercise between two and three times per week experience significantly less stress, depression and anger.
How come? While experts are still figuring out exactly why this is, it could be tied to the mind-body connection. When we participate in aerobic exercise, our bodies produce ‘feel-good’ chemicals called endorphins, giving us that feeling of floating on cloud nine. (It’s the same chemical that’s released when we are sexually active, when we’re around someone we love, or when we hold a baby or an animal.)
Also, fitness obviously increases our heart rate, releasing another chemical called norepinephrine, which helps our brains manage stress levels. Plus, all of that movement increases blood flow to the brain, improving our ability to concentrate, retain information, and even sleep more soundly at night.
All of that from exercise? Yep! That’s why The Mayo Clinic recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. You could do a combination of vigorous and moderate, too. This could look like this:
Monday: 30-minute brisk walk outside (moderate aerobic)
Tuesday: 30-minute yoga class (moderate aerobic)
Wednesday: 30-minute high-intensity-interval class (vigorous aerobic)
Thursday: 30-minute yoga class (moderate aerobic)
Saturday: 30-minute run outside (vigorous aerobic)
Sunday: 30-minute yoga class and 30-minute walk (moderate aerobic)
How to find the right exercise to improve your mood
Will any type of exercise make you feel pumped up for your day? Yes and no. Cardiovascular exercise is often touted as the most impactful, and while that’s true for your heart health, if you force yourself to go for a run each day and hate it, you aren’t likely to maintain the routine. Instead, it’s a better approach to find a workout class or type of fitness that you thoroughly enjoy so you can keep an ongoing schedule.
To spark your inspiration and give you a wide variety of exercises to try, here are a few top mood-boosting ideas:
Yes, you read that correctly: play! As children, we roam around the backyard, scale up playsets and trees, chase our dog or friends. But as adults, we don’t see ‘playtime’ as a form of exercise, when in reality, it is! Throw a ball with your kids outside, challenge your partner to a game of jump rope, and have fun with the time you spend moving your body. Or, for a group activity, consider joining a local soccer, basketball, kickball or tennis league, which will not only help you maintain a positive outlook but foster a community, too.
Whether you’re a fan of a slow-moving, gentle-flow yoga sequence or the challenge of hot or Bikram yoga sweat sesh, the benefits of this type of exercise can’t be discounted. While it’s not a vigorous aerobic activity, it can be a moderate one, especially if you are holding a difficult position for an extended period. Yoga is also a meaningful way to learn more about the mind-body connection since its practice encourages students to relax, release stress and tension, and strengthen their muscles.
You don’t have to be a marathoner to reap the rewards of putting one foot in front of the other. One easy way to get started with exercise to boost your mood is to challenge yourself to go on a one-mile walk every day for a week. This likely will take you between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on your current fitness level. You can use this time to listen to a podcast, catch up with a friend, enjoy your favorite playlist, or listen to the world around you.
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Need more help with exercise and mental health?
If you’re unsure of where to start or you’re entirely new to a fitness routine, we’re here to help. At Native, we help each patient find personalized mental health solutions that work for their individual needs and lifestyle. Using a 360-degree approach to mental healthcare, we provide coping mechanisms with traditional therapy and ideas for fitness, nutrition, and more.
If you’re in Pennsylvania, Native would be happy to be a part of your mental health care team and help you decide which solutions are best for you. To learn more about all of the mental health services we provide, click here.