We all know that hitting the gym can help you lose weight and gain muscle, but did you know that it can actually make you happier? Light to moderate aerobic exercise can improve your mood for two to four hours following the activity, according to Indiana University psychologist and researcher Jack Raglin, who offers the following tips to make sure you’re working off the blues along with those calories:
1. Aerobic over anaerobic.
People are more likely to experience mood-boosting benefits after aerobic activities such as lap swimming or cycling than from strength training.
2. Take it easy.
You don’t have to have an exhausting workout; the benefits of exercise can be experienced after just 20 minutes of light to moderate activity, such as a slow jog.
3. Everyone can benefit.
People who are clinically depressed gain the most mood-boosting benefits, but Raglin says that people who generally feel stressed or a bit blue can still enjoy a sense of calmness, lowered levels of anxiety and reduced fatigue after a cardiovascular workout.
4. Be patient.
Immediately after an intense workout, says Raglin, you’ll sometimes experience more anxiety or other unpleasant feelings—but within 5 to 10 minutes, this is usually replaced with the longer-lasting positive feelings.
5. Have fun!
No reason you can’t be happy during exercise. Find an aerobic activity you’ll enjoy by evaluating your personal tastes: Do you like to be indoors or outdoors? Would you prefer to be alone (jogging), with a partner (tennis), on a team (soccer) or in a group class (like spinning or rumba)? Enjoy what you’re doing and there’s a better chance you’ll make time for it.
While more and more studies are pointing to the mental-health benefits of exercise, little is known about precisely why it has this effect. Contrary to popular belief, says Raglin, there is no evidence that it’s due to a release of endorphins.
It could be a combination of factors, ranging from warmer body temperatures affecting the brain’s metabolism to the fact that when people exercise, they’re taking a break from the normal stresses of the day.
Whatever the reason, working out is one surefire way to combat the blues.