Happiness The Best Forms of Exercise to Improve Your Mood By Mark Stibich, PhD Mark Stibich, PhD Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 04, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print asiseeit / Vetta / Getty Images Exercise can be a great way to lift your mood and improve your ability to deal with stress. When you exercise, your body often feels more relaxed and calm, but there are mental benefits, too. Find out why exercise is beneficial, and which types of exercises are best to help balance your emotions. Press Play for Advice On Boosting Mental Health Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares ways you can boost your mood if you're feeling down. Click below to listen now. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts How Exercise Improves Mood When you engage in high-intensity exercise, your body and brain produce hormones and neurotransmitters that have a positive impact on your mood, memory, energy levels, and sense of well-being. Some of these are known as endorphins, the body's feel-good chemicals. They can result in the "runner's high" that joggers talk about. After a good workout, your muscles are tired, but you feel more relaxed. You may also feel a sense of accomplishment, which boosts your self-confidence and improves your sense of well-being. Thanks to your workout, the pent-up tension and stress in your muscles and your mind are reduced. Exercise and Emotions While exercise is not, on its own, a treatment for clinical depression, studies show that even a single bout of exercise results in positive changes in brain chemicals and can improve your mood. A 2017 review on the effects of exercise published in the journal Brain Plasticity, found that after exercise, people reported a better mood with decreases in tension, depression, and anger. In fact, for people with mild or moderate depression, 30 minutes of daily exercise may be effective for improving mood. A review study that looked at 23 randomized controlled studies found combining exercise with conventional medication and cognitive behavioral therapy treatment for depression reduced depression symptoms even more. More exercise isn't necessarily going to make you happier, and as with anything, it's possible to overdo it. For example, one of the benefits of exercise is that it stimulates cortisol production, which can help with memory and alertness. On the other hand, too much cortisol can have negative effects on your body and for your mood. The Role of Cortisol in Depression Types of Exercises to Improve Mood When it comes to exercise, it's crucial that you pick something you enjoy. Cardiovascular exercise is great, but if you hate swimming or running, you won't stick with it. And when an activity is more enjoyable, chances are better for long-term adherence. For your exercise routine, you might try a mix of solitary activities like walking, swimming, or gardening, combined with some group activities like high-intensity interval training classes or periodic group hikes or bike rides. In addition to the physical and endorphin benefits of exercise, another potential benefit of exercise is the opportunity for social interaction, which can often boost your mood just as much. The best type of exercise to improve your mood is often a mix of activities you enjoy and are motivated to stick with for the long term. For mood-lifting benefits, try any or all of the following activities. Some people get bored with the same exercise day after day; others relish the routine. Consider keeping the exercises you love as your anchor workouts, and then periodically swapping in other activities as your mood, schedule, or weather changes. For group classes, keep your eye open for seasonal discounts or coupon offers. Cardiovascular and Aerobic Exercises Cardiovascular and aerobic exercises are great for creating the intensity required for the release of mood-raising endorphins in your body. Aerobic exercises are those that get your heart rate up, like jogging, swimming, cycling, brisk walking, or using an elliptical trainer. You can also get your heart rate up by doing activities like gardening and dancing—both have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety. If you like sports, joining a local league to play soccer, basketball, or tennis can provide social interaction while giving you a cardiovascular workout. Joining a group class that provides a high-intensity interval workout like Crossfit or boxing is another way to get your cardio in while having some fun with friends. Yoga Yoga is a system of holistic health and spiritual growth which focuses on meditation, breathing exercises, and physical postures. Unless you're doing an active flow or vinyasa yoga class, yoga doesn't provide much of an aerobic workout. It can, however, teach you how to relax, release tension, stretch tight muscles, and even strengthen weak ones. Doing yoga regularly can help to ease anxiety and improve feelings of well-being. A 2016 review on the use of yoga for anxiety and depression found that the practice is beneficial for reducing anxiety, depression, and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tai Chi A traditional Chinese exercise that is practiced worldwide, Tai Chi can benefit people who experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it has been shown to improve immune function as well as to increase the blood levels of feel-good endorphins. Anyone can do Tai Chi because the movements are easily learned and repetitive. It doesn't require strength or endurance but instead focuses on the form of the movements and breathing. Tai Chi is considered a self-healing practice. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the practice helps to alleviate energy blockages in the body, which helps to prevent or treat certain diseases. Research shows that Tai Chi may improve many aspects of well-being including reducing depression, anxiety, stress. and mood disturbance as well as improving self-esteem. A Word From Verywell There are so many benefits of exercise, which is why the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity cardio exercise plus two days of strength training exercise for all adults. While exercise can help to improve your mood, if you deal with severe depression or anxiety, always consult your doctor. 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plast. 2017;2(2):127-152. doi:10.3233/BPL-160040 Kvam S, Kleppe CL, Nordhus IH, Hovland A. Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2016;202:67-86. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.063 Qin DD, Rizak J, Feng XL, et al. Prolonged secretion of cortisol as a possible mechanism underlying stress and depressive behaviour. Sci Rep. 2016;6:30187 Lindegård A, Jonsdottir IH, Börjesson M, Lindwall M, Gerber M. Changes in mental health in compliers and non-compliers with physical activity recommendations in patients with stress-related exhaustion. BMC Psychiatry. 2015;15:272. doi:10.1186/s12888-015-0642-3 Uebelacker LA, Broughton MK. Yoga for Depression and Anxiety: A Review of Published Research and Implications for Healthcare Providers. R I Med J (2013). 2016;99(3):20-2 Abbott R, Lavretsky H. Tai Chi and Qigong for the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2013;36(1):109–119. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2013.01.011 Yeung, Albert & Chan, Jessie S. M. & Cheung, Joey & Zou, Liye & Qigong, Tai-Chi. (2017). Qigong and Tai-Chi for Mood Regulation. 00. 1-8. doi:10.1176/appi.focus.20170042 Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Additional Reading Broughton MK. Yoga for depression and anxiety: A review of published research and implications for healthcare providers. Rhode Island Medical Journal. 2016 Mar 1;99(3):20. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Happiness Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.