The Best Forms of Exercise to Release Endorphins and Improve Mood

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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. Find out why exercise is beneficial, and which types of exercises are best to help balance your emotions.

How Exercise Improves Mood

When you engage in high-intensity exercise, your body and brain produce hormones, chemicals, and neurotransmitters which have a positive impact on your mood, memory, energy levels, and sense of well-being. 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. In addition, after exercising you may 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 report a better mood with decreases in tension, depression, anger, and confusion.

In fact, for people with mild or moderate depression, 30 minutes of intense exercise may be as effective as medication 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 reduces depression symptoms even more.

Most studies on exercise and mood show that 30 minutes most days of the week is enough to reap the benefits. More exercise isn't necessarily going to make you happier, and as with anything, it's possible to overdo exercise. One of its benefits 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.

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 important benefit is 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.

Consider trying any or all of the following activities. You don't have to do them all at once. Most people tend to get bored with the same exercise day after day, so keep the ones you love as your anchor workouts, and then periodically swap in other activities as your mood, time availability, weather, or anything else changes. For group classes, keep your eye open for seasonal discounts, or Groupon offers. Nothing boosts your mood more than finding a good deal.

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 and 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 and have 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 article on the use of yoga for anxiety and depression found that it's beneficial for reducing anxiety, depression, and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tai Chi

A traditional Chinese exercise that is practiced worldwide, tai chi can benefit 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 focuses on the form of the movements, and breathing. Tai Chi is considered a self-healing practice. According to traditional Chinese medicine, Tai Chi helps to alleviate energy blockages in the body, which helps to prevent or treat certain diseases. Studies suggest that Tai Chi can improve many aspects of well-being including reducing depression, anxiety, stress and mood disturbance, and 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 2 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.

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