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How to Exercise to Bust Through a Bad Mood

Does it matter what kind of exercise? The timing of the exercise? The intensity?

You’ve probably heard that you should “exercise to manage stress”.  That exercise makes us feel better is something that we take as fact, but we rarely investigate the why and the how of the relationship between exercise and our mental health. If you, like so many countless others, exercise to feel calmer, stronger, more focused and refreshed, you may be wondering if there is an ideal way to exercise to feel your absolute best. Does it matter what kind of exercise? The timing of the exercise? The intensity?

Does it matter what kind of exercise to manage stress and mood? The timing of the exercise? The intensity?

Some type of exercise is better than no exercise at all, of course. But if stress relief is priority for you, read on to find ways to maximize your time spent exercising so as to feel your absolute best!

  • Do something you like. Well, first of all, any exercise that you can stick to for an extended period of time and that you enjoy is a good bet. For example, if you hate racquetball and have always hated racquetball, there’s no need to force yourself into playing it when there are so many other more enjoyable forms of exercise. Forcing yourself into doing something you hate rarely ever results in a stress-free state of mind. But maybe you don’t know what you enjoy yet. Have no fear! Most gyms and studios offer free trial sessions. Through trial and error is how I discovered that I love kick-boxing, but dislike spin (sorry, spin aficionados). So, hop onto your favourite search engine, see what’s being offered in your area, and have fun!
  • Join a team for extra relaxation and fun. One study found that those individuals who played team sports tended to have fewer “bad” mental health days than those who did not. We are social creatures after all. I would speculate that the element of social connection inherent in team sports might amplify exercise’s mood-boosting benefits. So, even if you’re not on a sports team, consider inviting a friend to your workouts! Not only does social connection make exercise more enjoyable, workout buddies can help keep us accountable for when we are feeling unmotivated.
  • Walk–or run–it out. The studies done on the relationship between exercise and mental health have been primarily focused on aerobic exercise. Tons of research supports the conclusion that aerobic exercise not only prevents depression, but increases happiness. Just walking at a moderate pace helps to decrease cortisol for hours afterwards. And, unsurprisingly, walking in the beautiful outdoors boasts extra soothing effects!
  • But you should definitely strength train. This might not be what you want to hear if you are especially gym-averse. But strength-training boasts innumerable benefits and, in my opinion, is absolutely essential if you want to live a long, healthy, and happy life. One massive scientific review found over 50 trials to support the relationship between strength-training and an improved mental state. Not only does it build physical power and resilience, strength-training also reduces anxiety in healthy individuals, alleviates symptoms in people suffering from chronic pain conditions (such as fibromyalgia, low back pain, and osteoarthritis), improves sleep quality, lessens depression, and boosts self-esteem. And how is strength-training so magical? Well, along with other hormones, lifting heavy stimulates testosterone–and testosterone is great for balancing your mood, giving you energy, and promoting a healthy sex drive. Plus, our insulin response will also be improved by strength-training, which means you can eat more simple carbs without experiencing those soul-draining sugar crashes later in the day.
  • Find a time that works for you. Many studies have shown that the morning is the best time for exercise, and for multiple reasons; a morning sweat has been shown to improve sleep quality, sharpen our cognitive function, lighten our mood and help us make better food choices throughout the rest of the day. I prefer a morning workout for all of these reasons, and because 1) there’s less time to either talk myself out of it, and 2) I’m less likely to become distracted by other demands. So, if you have trouble staying consistent, a morning workout may be just the ticket to a long-term exercise habit.

If you shudder at the thought of dragging yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn to get in a good sweat session, fear not, a few studies have found that individuals working out in the afternoon or evening will likely experience greater strength, endurance, and flexibility than those who work out in the morning. Your body at this time is (typically) primed, alert, and fed. There is some evidence to suggest that working out later in the day will result in more testosterone than working out in the morning. My only word of warning with evening workouts: research has shown that your body has to cool down by one or two degrees to get deep, restful sleep. So, if you’re working out at 9 pm and have to be in bed by 11, you might have a hard time getting those quality zzz’s that you so deserve (and you’ve probably figured out that sleeplessness definitely does not relieve stress).

So, if you’re feeling stressed (or if you’re feeling great!), I hope this article has inspired you to get up and get moving!

Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!

Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.

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