Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants at alleviating some forms of depression and anxiety, and has long-lasting effects without any adverse side effects. While you should always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, don’t discount this very effective mood-boosting activity.
Why does exercise improve mood?
There are a number of reasons why exercise boosts mood, starting with what happens in the brain. Exercise releases hormones in the brain that produce positive emotions, including dopamine, endorphins, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These produce feelings of peace, joy, and even euphoria. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that soothes, repairs, and protects neurons in the brain, making you feel like you can think more clearly.
But happy hormones and neuron-healing chemicals aren’t the only benefits of exercise. Another is the increased ability to handle stress. When you exercise, you’re essentially stressing your body at a low level – increasing the heart rate and activating the muscles, which trigger yet more chemical responses that actually increase your ability to handle stress.
Besides these benefits, there are plenty of others, depending on the exercise you choose. A brisk walk outside? You get fresh air and vitamin D. Walk the dog while you’re at it and you add the pleasure derived from the companionship of a devoted pet. Dancing provides improved social interactions and the chance to make new friends. And all exercise tones your muscles, providing you with a level of satisfaction and a sense of control over your body as you see yourself becoming stronger and healthier.
What exercises should I do to boost my mood?
Your exercise need not be vigorous, but it must be regular and frequent. Ideally, moderate aerobic exercise of 30-45 minutes per day, 3-4 days per week can have lasting results, and it’s fine to break it up into 10 minute periods throughout the day. But if you can’t commit to 30-45 minutes, or if you’re just starting out, even 10-15 minutes every day could benefit you.
Walking briskly, biking, swimming, dancing, and playing tennis all provide the right amount of aerobic exercise to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression and boost your mood for the long-term. Clearly, exercise should be a part of everyone’s regimen for optimal physical and psychological health but remember to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen. If you begin exercising or have been exercising for a while and still do not feel the benefits mentioned above, you may be experiencing depression and/or anxiety that requires additional treatment. Do not hesitate to contact your physicians or a licensed therapist to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.