Exercise Is Good Food for Your Mood

It's about that time of year when the sight of wool makes your skin crawl — literally.

We've been insulated by layers of clothing (and the occasional comfort food) and it's finally time to peel it all away. With spring in sight the longer days and better weather mean a renewed energy to commit to your exercise routine. Your mood may just depend on it!

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It's High Time...

You've probably heard of "runner's high," caused by the mood-boosting endorphins (aka "feel good hormones") your brain naturally releases when you exert yourself.

To achieve that release, Pete McCall, the education manager for The Sports Club/LA suggests a workout of greater intensity, which means the amount of work or force used during your workout, and not the length of time exercising.

If you are lifting weights, McCall recommends using enough weight to fatigue by the sixth repetition. If you can do more than six, it's too light.

And for cardiovascular training he encourages intervals: 30 seconds of hard, intense work, followed by 90 seconds to two minutes of light, low intensity work.

"This will allow the body to work at a greater intensity for shorter periods rather than a lower intensity for a longer period — which can have a negative effect on the hormone system," said McCall.

Exercise is also a great way to simply clear your mind by focusing on the activity at hand; it can help you achieve a zenlike state (even if meditation isn't your thing!). It also means taking you out of your regular stress-inducing surroundings and putting you into more relaxing (or energizing) environments like a park, a hiking trail or the gym.

You'll also get a boost of confidence just knowing that you're doing something good for yourself, improving your life in some way. Combined, all of these factors help improve your mood.

Boost 411

Now that we've established that exercise is good food for your mood, let's take a closer look at what needs to be done and at what frequency. We turned to Geralyn Coopersmith, senior national manager of Equinox Training Institute, for the fundamentals on mood elevating exercise:

In order to get the mood boosting effects, it's important to work out consistently — about 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to five days a week.

Besides the endorphin boost, there are psychological effects too, like feeling good about yourself and your body. (In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, even small sessions of 10 to 15 minutes a day could help boost moods short-term.)

Weight training can be as effective as aerobic exercise in elevating your mood. So aim to get in two to three days a week of resistance training.

You won't get the mood-boosting effect if you're not challenging yourself, so you have to be getting your heart rate up at a pretty intense level. If you pick an exercise you're proficient at, you can work harder and sustain a more intense workout. Also, when you do something you're good at, you have a higher psychological sense of accomplishment.

Now Try This

Exercise can certainly lift your spirits, but even the most invigorating workout can get redundant and needs a little inspiration eventually.

If you're feeling like your workout could use a boost then just add music — it's sure to elevate your spirits and re-energize you. You can also grab a friend. Working out with a buddy gives you more stress-relieving bang for your buck. They'll likely keep you motivated and working harder (more endorphins for you!) and you'll also get the benefits of enjoying the company of a friend who helps take the "work" out of working out.

As the weather improves, make an effort to get outside. Giving the gym a break and connecting with the outdoors will invigorate both your workout and your mood.

If getting to a gym isn't an option, then Coopersmith recommends these easy steps to ensure you're getting your daily fix:

Take the stairs. They're accessible pretty much everywhere, so run up and down for five minutes at a time for a fairly intense jolt.

While you're watching TV, commit to getting up and moving for the entirety of each commercial break. Try something moderate like marching or dancing in place — you'll get the same benefits even if you break up the exercise.

You can invest in resistance bands for at-home training, but people will also find basic push-ups to be very effective. Try on to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions (if you can do more than that, time to try something harder).

Supplement Your Workout

Complex carbohydrates are associated with raised serotonin levels, so supplement your workout with healthy carbs like oats (with skim milk) or multigrain bread (with natural peanut butter). You can also try one of VitalJuiceDaily.com's healthy breakfast suggestions.

The idea is to have a healthy carbohydrate with some protein and very little (or all-healthy) fat. Besides raising serotonin levels, this will allow for a sustained energy release during your workout.

Don't use this as an excuse to pig out, though: have about 200-calories worth of leeway within two hours before you exercise and again within one hour after. Stay away from simple sugars, which will cause your blood sugar to drastically rise and then crash, making you tired and irritable.

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