At this point, we don’t need to tell you that exercise is good for your body and mood. We all know it is. There have been countless studies on the positive impact getting up and moving around has on your physical health, and it’s been repeatedly connected to a more positive headspace and reduced risk of mental health diagnoses like depression.
But what’s the best approach when starting out on this love affair with exercise, and how exactly can it help improve your mood?
We chatted with one of the team members of Sydney-based gym Acero, Tony, who shared some insight over email.
Why does exercise improve your mood?
As we mentioned earlier, physical activity has long been connected to studies suggesting a more positive headspace and decreased risk of serious mental health conditions. But speaking from just a day-to-day standpoint, exercise is a mood booster because it “helps increase the levels of dopamine” in your body, Tony explained.
This chemical, he shared, fires off when you’ve completed a task and it is known to elicit feelings of pleasure or satisfaction. It’s known as ‘the happy hormone’ for that reason.
Dopamine is connected to activities like sex or eating, and it’s also released when we exercise. So even if you’re finding that first rep challenging, in time your brain will thank you for it.
More than that, exercise also releases other ‘happy’ chemicals like endorphins, adrenaline and endocannabinoid. Basically, it’s a joyful party in your brain every time you train.
How long do you need to exercise in order to feel better?
Okay, so you’re in a bit of a funk and you’d like to give your brain a dose of dopamine. How long should you be training in order to achieve that? Looking at what science says, as little as 15 minutes a day can make a difference.
In fact, a study by the University of Vermont found that 20 minutes of exercise can boost your mood for as much as 12 hours. Similarly, Harvard has pointed to data that indicates running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces your risk of major depression.
Tony shared that on this front, “the best advice I can give someone in terms of exercising is to start by making training a habit of self-care and love”.
“My recommendation for anyone looking to change their mood [for the better] is to train 4 days per week”, he said.
Just be sure not to overdo it, he stressed. Training in excess can lead to “extra adrenaline and cortisol in your body which increase stress levels resulting in fatigue and injury”. So listen to your body and pump the breaks if you need to.
In addition to a regular fitness routine, he shared that including quality sources of protein in your diet, having at least seven hours of sleep each night and prioritising recovery post-workout are all equally as important.
Nailing all of these elements, in short, is a solid means of mastering a robust fitness routine as well as hopefully giving your mood a significant boost.