Getting yourself to the gym may be the last thing you’re thinking about when you’re stressed out, wiped out or bummed out. But it’s precisely what could perk you up in a flash.
Besides all its physical benefits, exercise can boost mood, build self-esteem, lower anxiety, improve sleep and help combat stress. As researchers studying the link between mood and exercise love to say, if you could bottle the effects of exercise, it would be flying off the shelves. Though it might take slightly more activity than swallowing a pill, improving your mood requires way less than you think. Did somebody say 10 minutes a day?
How It Works
According to psychiatry professor John J. Ratey, MD, author of "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain," exercise regulates all of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. It is also one of the best ways to release BDNF, a protein that helps build and maintain the brain’s circuitries.
Why is this important? “Our brains are incredibly malleable — and everything we do shapes them,” says Louann Brizendine, MD, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of "The Female Brain." When we learn a new skill, it gets programmed into our brain cells and forges new circuits between them. If the route dissolves, the cells stop communicating and you forget. BDNF helps solidify those connections, and is the crucial link between emotions and movement, Dr. Ratey explains.
A Burst of Bliss
So just how much exercise do you need to see the benefits? Research suggests you can get a burst of energy and bliss without even breaking that much of a sweat — which might be exactly what you need in the middle of a stressful day. A Northern Arizona University study showed just 10 minutes of moderate exercise improved overall mood and vitality in people without depression.
If your chin is dragging on the floor, courtesy of a sleepless night, get your blood flowing with a quick jaunt around the block. “One of the best remedies for an afternoon slump is a short but rapid walk,” says Larry Christensen, PhD, psychology professor at the University of Southern Alabama. If it’s raining out, jog up and down a flight of stairs a few times. Bonus: If you have an extra five minutes to burn, a 15-minute walk can reduce chocolate and cigarette cravings, according to Thomas Morledge, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
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