We all know regular exercise does a body good but did you know it improves mental and emotional health too? That’s right, sustained physical exertion is nature’s Prozac. It prevents depression, releases stress and reduces anxiety.
How Exercise Lifts the Mood
Stress is the body’s natural fight-or-flight instinct. This occurs when the brain releases a chemical called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” This chemical protects the neurons from the anticipated effects of danger. At the same time, the brain releases endorphins and cortisol. These chemicals improve physical performance and numb pain.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor soothes frayed nerves to achieve a sense of clarity in the middle of danger. This is why exercising after being stressed out clears the head.
Sustained physical exertion of any kind releases a series of feel-good hormones: endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals work in unison to uplift mood and calm the nerves. In other words, feel-good hormones cancel out stress hormones. That’s why you feel better after a good work out. Exercising also releases tension between muscles. All these processes contribute to uplift the mood.
How Come Not Everyone Likes Working Out
If exercising makes us feel good, how come not everyone are willing to exercise regularly? The willingness to exercise regularly depends on the exertion that triggers happiness. For most people, addictive behavior is triggered by starting a workout routine. This is why those who are working out for the first time are enthusiastic about it. But a few months into the routine, the addictive nature of exercising drops gradually. As the enthusiasm wears off, the body is no longer biochemically rewarded for working out. Eventually, instead of seeing exercise as a reward, it becomes a chore. Only highly motivated individuals are able to sustain their enthusiasm for working out.
How to Maximize Exercise to Lift Mood
Work Out for At Least 20 Minutes
You don’t have to spend three hours at the gym to feel good about working out. Exercising for at least 20 minutes yields substantial physical, mental and emotional benefits. Granted, you have to utilize intense exercises if you want to transform the body.
If a 20-minute workout seems too much, shoot for a 10-minute walk. The point is to establish a habit, train the brain to respond to happiness from working out!
Developing a Routine
The same way you formed a habit of drinking coffee in the morning, routinely working out for at least 20 minutes can uplift the mood. How? The brain will crave the “high” you get from working out. By conditioning the brain to “expect” the release of feel good hormones, you are more likely to workout. Do this by developing a fitness routine.
Studies show that people who work out daily are happier than those who work out every other day or every weekend. Also, those who work out every other day or during weekends are less likely to experience a “high” from exercising.
That’s because they are not exercising enough to develop a biochemical habit. In turn, the brain does not associate working out with feelings of happiness. Working out every day for at least 20 minutes reinforces the habit, improving positive feelings.