How to Exercise to Bust Through a Bad Mood
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.
Adams, T. B., Moore, M. T., & Dye, J. (2007). The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Mental Health in a National Sample of College Females. Women & Health, 45(1), 69-85. doi:10.1300/j013v45n01_05
Armstrong, S., & Oomen-Early, J. (2009). Social Connectedness, Self-Esteem, and Depression Symptomatology Among Collegiate Athletes Versus Nonathletes. Journal of American College Health, 57(5), 521-526. doi:10.3200/jach.57.5.521-526
Chang, W., Lin, H., & Lai, P. (2015). Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(3), 619-622. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.619
Ferris, L. T., Williams, J. S., Shen, C., Albus, K. A., & Hale, K. B. (2004). Resistance Training Improves Sleep Quality in Older Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(Supplement). doi:10.1249/00005768-200405001-01375
Hayes, L. D., Bickerstaff, G. F., & Baker, J. S. (2010). Interactions Of Cortisol, Testosterone, And Resistance Training: Influence Of Circadian Rhythms. Chronobiology International, 27(4), 675-705. doi:10.3109/07420521003778773
How The Timing of Your Workout Schedule Can Help Your Sleep Quality. (2020, September 02). Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/best-time-day-exercise-quality-zzzs
Joo, J., Williamson, S. A., Vazquez, A. I., Fernandez, J. R., & Bray, M. S. (2019). The influence of 15-week exercise training on dietary patterns among young adults. International Journal of Obesity, 43(9), 1681-1690. doi:10.1038/s41366-018-0299-3
Küüsmaa, M., Schumann, M., Sedliak, M., Kraemer, W. J., Newton, R. U., Malinen, J., . . . Häkkinen, K. (2016). Effects of morning versus evening combined strength and endurance training on physical performance, muscle hypertrophy, and serum hormone concentrations. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(12), 1285-1294. doi:10.1139/apnm-2016-0271
Leblanc, J., Nadeau, A., Richard, D., & Tremblay, A. (1981). Studies on the sparing effect of exercise on insulin requirements in human subjects. Metabolism, 30(11), 1119-1124. doi:10.1016/0026-0495(81)90057-3
O’connor, P. J., Herring, M. P., & Caravalho, A. (2010). Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 377-396. doi:10.1177/1559827610368771
Paluska, S. A., & Schwenk, T. L. (2000). Physical Activity and Mental Health. Sports Medicine, 29(3), 167-180. doi:10.2165/00007256-200029030-00003
Pluhar, E., McCracken, C., Griffith, K. L., Christino, M. A., Sugimoto, D., & Meehan, W. P., 3rd (2019). Team Sport Athletes May Be Less Likely To Suffer Anxiety or Depression than Individual Sport Athletes. Journal of sports science & medicine, 18(3), 490–496.
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 08(02), 106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
Toda, M., Den, R., Hasegawa-Ohira, M., & Morimoto, K. (2013). Effects of woodland walking on salivary stress markers cortisol and chromogranin A. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21(1), 29-34. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2012.11.004
Wheeler, M. J., Green, D. J., Ellis, K. A., Cerin, E., Heinonen, I., Naylor, L. H., . . . Dunstan, D. W. (2019). Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: A three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(13), 776-781. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-100168