By Kate Horwood, founder and creator of the BODY EDIT method.
Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression. I certainly know that if I’m feeling a bit anxious, stressed, low, lethargic or not as positive as I’d like, doing some sort of physical exercise really helps lift my spirits… even if it’s a quick 5-10 minute stretch session!
Exercise reduces stress
So let’s start with the science – you’ve probably all heard that the body releases chemicals called ‘endorphins’ when we exercise – but how exactly do they work?
Endorphins act as an analgesic, which means they diminish the perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors that endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence1…although some fitness fanatics may argue the case!
It is worth mentioning the flip side here however, that too much exercise, without giving your body enough time to rest and recoup, will cause you mental and physical stress. I really am an advocate of not pushing yourself if you don’t feel your best physically – if you’re hung-over, feel like you’re getting ill, have an injury, sleep deprived etc. A lot of people do push themselves to exercise when they’re not physically feeling 100% and will most likely end up making the problem worse!
Exercise wards off anxiety and feelings of depression
As we know, the mind and body are not separate, evidence shows that there is a link between being physically active and enjoying positive mental wellbeing. As well as triggering chemical changes in the brain that can positively alter mood, exercise also brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control and the ability to rise to a challenge.
According to ADDA – Anxiety & Depression Association of America – scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabalise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.2
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So, the opposite is also true – if your body feels better, so does your mind!
Exercise boosts self-esteem
Improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. Again this is in part down to the chemicals released during exercise but also as you use your body more you’ll improve your body awareness, muscle tone, strength, endurance, posture, and agility. Your new improved physique and your mood enhancing endorphins will improve your relationship with your body image (part of this is truth and part is a mental shift).
Exercise improves sleep
We all know that if you’re lacking sleep your mood and energy levels will suffer.
Those same endorphins released during exercise also aid relaxation. Whilst using your body for physical activity will work the muscles and use excess energy/calories consumed that may otherwise go unused through inactivity. In other words, energy in, energy out…
You certainly sleep a whole lot better when you’re a little exhausted and exhilarated after exercise.
Worth noting here though that it’s advisable not to exercise beyond 9pm. You need to allow your body time to wind down before sleeping. A good cool down routine will also help with this – i.e. slowly lowering the heart rate and ending with stretching and relaxation.
Workout to music to boost your mood!
Music is certainly a HUGE part of why exercise makes me feel great. I always play my favourite tracks on my iPod whilst out walking/running, and for my BODY EDIT classes I make sure I put together really great playlists to motivate and uplift everyone.
Music can make you feel happy, it can motivate you to work harder, it can relax you and also improve cognitive function along with a whole host of other benefits. In fact research conducted at Brunel University has confirmed that listening to music while you exercise could also increase your endurance by up to 15%!3 Lastly, it seems that music helps to increase the actual enjoyment of the exercise as well, making it more of a pleasure than a chore.
So when you feel like you need a mood boost — GET MOVING even if it’s only for 10 minutes, GET OUTSIDE & connect with nature, PLAY SOME UPLIFTING TUNES & turn up the beat — and get ready to feel good!