There is something so satisfying about stepping off the treadmill sweaty and exhausted. You also feel it when you lower that dumbbell on your final rep and take a deep breath. Completing a great workout is an accomplishment in and of itself, but did you know that exercise can actually boost your mood? Physical activity triggers biochemical changes in the brain that can influence your mental health.
So, exercise can improve your physical fitness as well as your mental health but what kind of exercise? And how do you do it? Keep reading to learn more about the link between exercise and mood. We’ll also provide you with the blueprints for a 15-minute workout that will boost your fitness as well as your mood. Are you ready?
What’s the Link Between Exercise and Mood?
There is an endless array of studies that have been conducted on the benefits of exercise for weight loss and for the prevention or treatment of chronic diseases. If you think about it, something that is so good for your body must also be good for your mind. But how exactly does exercise affect your brain? Here are some of the ways exercise can impact your mood:
- It activates a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex which plays a role in decision making, helping you to think more clearly and to make smarter decisions.
- It helps you process negative emotions (such as fear) and helps you assess risk – it also helps you stay focused on the positive.
- Regular exercise improves your body’s resistance to the effects of stress,and it alters a part of your brain called the dorsal raphe nucleus which is responsible for mood regulation.
- Exercise boosts production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin which helps decrease negative emotions while increasing positive ones.
- Frequent exercise activates the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, which may help you recall old memories faster and make new memories more easily.
- Short bursts of intense exercise can increase both cognitive performance and productivity.
In addition to these changes in the brain, studies show that exercise can improve body satisfaction – people who work out regularly tend to be more body-positive than those who don’t exercise.
In addition to helping you feel better about yourself, exercise may also improve your sex life and help you feel more positive about your romantic relationships.
A 15-Minute Workout for Mood and Fitness
Now that you understand the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental fitness, here’s a workout designed for both.
As you perform these exercises, be sure to focus on your breathing so that while the exercise gets your blood flowing, you’ll be pumping oxygenated blood throughout your body and into your brain.
- Start with 2 to 3 minutes of gentle stretching combined with deep breathing – count your breaths in and out, holding for a few seconds between each. You can also try marching in place to stretch your legs and to get your heart going a little faster.
- Jumping Jacks – Get your heart pumping with some jumping jacks performed at a comfortable rate, just fast enough to increase your breathing a little. Start with your feet together, arms at your sides, then jump your legs out to just more than hip-width while swinging your arms overhead. Jump your feet together while bringing your arms down to your sides and repeat for 30 seconds.
- Hip Circle and Lunge – Stand with your feet hip-width apart then circle your hips to the left, completing three full rotations. With your left leg, step out and lower your hips into a lateral lunge. Push off your left leg and return to the starting position then repeat on the other side. Repeat for 30 seconds.
- Cat to Cow – On a yoga mat, get down on all fours with a neutral spine. Draw your belly button into your spine and your chin to your chest, rounding your back as you do so. Hold for a second then arch your back in the other direction while lifting your tailbone and the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Repeat for 30 seconds.
- Swimmer’s Reach – Lie flat on your stomach on a yoga mat, extending your legs behind you and your arms in front. Lift your arms, chest, and legs a few inches off the ground then flutter your arms and legs, as if you were swimming. As you flutter, inhale slowly over 4 counts then exhale for 4. Do this for 30 seconds.
- Leg Scissors – Lie on your back on the yoga mat then lift your shoulders and neck off the ground, contracting your abs. Bring your arms to your sides and hold them a few inches off the ground then extend your legs at a 45-degree angle. Now cross your thighs over each other in alternation, keeping your knees straight, for a total of 10. Repeat for three sets.
- Mountain Climbers – Get your heart rate up again by performing these as quickly as possible. Begin in a plank position then draw your left knee up to your chest then switch legs, kicking your left knee back and your right knee forward. Keep your hips steady and your wrists under your shoulders, repeating quickly for 60 seconds.
- Burpees – Get vertical again with this multi-move exercise. Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart then push your hips back, lowering into squat position. Bring your hands down to your sides, placing the palms flat on the floor then jump your feet back into plank position. Jump your feet back to outside your hands then reach overhead while jumping up. When you land, immediately lower into a squat for your next repetition – repeat for 60 seconds.
- Lunge Kick – Start with your feet hip-width apart then lunge forward with your left leg, keeping your thigh parallel to the floor. Push off with your right foot, kicking forward at hip height. Step your right leg back into the lunge then repeat for 30 seconds. Perform on the opposite side for 30 seconds.
- Fish Position – Slow down with a few yoga poses, starting by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat. Place your hands, palms down, under your butt and keep your forearms on the ground. Bend your elbows, leaning on your forearms and lift your chest to the ceiling, arching your back. Let your head relax behind you and hold, breathing deeply for 30 seconds.
- Child’s Pose – Kneel on a yoga mat with your knees slightly apart. Crawl your hands forward, stretching your arms in front of your and resting your forehead on the ground. Breathe deeply and rhythmically for 30 seconds or so.
- Telescope Arms – Finish by opening up your chest with this move. Lie on your right side with your arms stretched out to the right side as well, fingertips together. Draw the fingertips of your left hand up along your right arm, across your chest, and out to the other side, twisting your upper body as your head follows. Take a few deep breaths then repeat on the other side.
- Cool down with 2 to 3 minutes of walking in place while stretching and breathing. Again, count your breaths in and out, holding for a few seconds between each.
If you prefer to do your own thing rather than following a specific workout plan, you should still know which types of exercise are best for your mood. Studies show that high-intensity exercise for short periods of time is a great mood-booster so try things like running, kickboxing, dancing, or some high-intensity interval training.