How do you usually feel when leaving the gym after breaking a sweat? Anyone who's hit that runner's high or walked out of a yoga studio smiling knows that exercise affects your mood, generally by giving it a major boost. That benefit isn't all in your head: Several recent studies have looked at the impact of various workouts at all levels of intensity and how they can give you an emotional lift that might help you conquer specific scenarios throughout your day. Here are six ways a great workout boosts your mental health.
1. EXERCISE HELPS YOU DEAL WITH STRESS DURING YOUR WORKDAY...
Walking for 30 minutes at midday led people to feel more enthusiastic about their work responsibilities in the hours that followed their stroll, a 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found. Study participants also felt better equipped to combat any tensions or tough jobs that arose after their half-hour of moving. On days when you have meetings all afternoon or a big project to wrap up in the p.m., skip a long lunch with coworkers and do laps around the block instead.
2. … AND HELPS YOU LEAVE THAT STRESS AT THE OFFICE.
Find it hard to put tensions from a conference call or upcoming presentation out of your mind when you head home every evening? Getting your blood pumping is a great way to stop the stressed-out cycle, according to new research: Swimming for an hour or getting 90 minutes of walking in a day reduces your chances of bringing work stress home with you and makes you less likely to take out your frustrations on loved ones, found a new study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
3. EXERCISE COMBATS DEPRESSION.
Doing something active for 30 minutes significantly improved the mood of depressed women in a 2016 study published in Behavior Therapy. And good news: You don’t have to go hard to reap the reward and feel better. Light-, moderate-, and high-intensity exercise all led to an antidepressant effect.
4. IT BUMPS UP YOUR ENERGY.
Walking at a moderate pace for a mere five minutes once an hour, during a typical workday in an office setting, led people to feel happier, less tired, more energetic, and less hungry in a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
5. IT HELPS YOU STOP SNACKING WHEN YOU'RE SAD.
If you’re trying to drop some pounds, exercising more could help—but not for the reason you might think. It’s not all about the calories you burn, but about your mood improving, too, according to a 2011 study from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Study participants shed weight and shrank their waist circumferences, but most of the change was not because they had a caloric deficit; rather, their boosted mood helped them feel empowered and better able to resist emotional eating.
6. IT UPS YOUR SENSE OF SATISFACTION.
Can’t squeeze in an hour-long walk in the morning or that 45-minute bootcamp class? No problem: Breaking up your exercise into smaller chunks over the course of the day might be even better. Moving often throughout the day makes you happier immediately but also in the long-term, according to a recent study. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England looked at data from more than 10,000 men and women and determined that frequent activity caused people to feel more satisfied with their lives. Low-intensity exercise like cycling or going for a stroll is all that’s necessary to feel the boost.