by Joanna Foley, RD, CLT August 10, 2021 3 min read

You've probably heard a lot about the health benefits of exercise. The focus is often on its physical health benefits and ability to help reduce disease risk, but there is also a clear link between being active and mental health.

Since nearly one in five American adults deal with mental illness, the benefits from physical movement on mood can have a tremendous impact. Let's take a look at the different types of exercise and their effects.

How Does Exercise Impact Mood?

Have you ever felt or heard of the post-workout "high?" This feeling refers to the increase in endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones your brain releases following exercise and other circumstances. Endorphins are believed to be responsible for a boost in mood and can also help reduce the perception of pain.

Because of this relationship, research shows that exercise can improve mood and overall mental health. Being physically active can help reduce symptoms of worry, sadness and improve self-esteem and cognitive function. These benefits can have a positive domino effect on the rest of the body. A better mood has also been shown to lead to other improvements like better sleep and the ability to manage stress.

However, this relationship works both ways. You've probably experienced how being stressed or worn out can also lead to a lower mood and poor sleep. The good news is that exercise may be able to help with both sets of circumstances.

What Types of Exercises Should You Try?

The type, intensity and frequency of exercise all play a role in how exercise can boost your mood. High-intensity exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system in your body, which increases heart rate and is great for short-term benefits. While low-intensity exercise involves the parasympathetic nervous system, which is more restorative and can have longer-lasting benefits on the body.

When it comes to the specific types of exercise, both strength and endurance exercises have mood benefits. A recent study published found that people who performed resistance training exercises like weight lifting two or more days a week had a significant reduction in symptoms of low mood compared to people who did not. Similarly, aerobic exercises like jogging, walking, swimming and dancing have also been shown to enhance mood by increasing blood circulation to the brain and reducing stress.

A clinical researcher from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests doing at least 15 minutes a day of higher intensity exercise or at least an hour of lower-intensity exercises to help prevent mood imbalances.

Tips for Reaping the Benefits of Exercise on Your Mood

You don't have to spend hours in the gym or do intense lengthy workouts to experience the widespread health benefits of exercise -- especially for its positive impact on mood. No matter your abilities or limitations, the most important thing to do is get started. Choose a workout type you enjoy so you are more likely to want to do it consistently and try to incorporate a variety of activities that utilize the whole body and energy systems.

Start wherever you feel comfortable, and over time gradually work up to longer or more intense exercise workout routines that support your individual health and goals. It's important to remember that little movements add up. Simply being more intentional to move your body with things like housework, taking the stairs, and going on daily walks can make a big difference in your physical and mental well-being.

How to Benefit from Exercise

When it comes to improving your mood, there isn't one "best workout." Exercise is individualized, and all types have a benefit. You can learn more about specific types of exercise that help overcome low mood issues or explore tips for building and maintaining an effective exercise routine. Remember, the best thing is just to get moving!

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