By Amy Ludwig
Tired of shorter days and early nights? Wondering how you can get through the dark months as you pine for summer sunshine? Fear not. You can walk—or jog, run, or lift—your way to a brighter mood with exercise.
When you’re feeling low, moving may be the last thing you feel like doing. As Sir Isaac Newton pointed out, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. But increasingly, science is proving that if you can peel yourself off the couch and put one foot in front of the other, you’ll feel better, both about yourself and the world.
So how do you make this happen?
Working out “cheers up” your body chemistry.
When you’re physically active, your body releases natural chemicals that actually make you feel good. Neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine help you feel relaxed and happy.
Exercise also reduces your body’s production of hormones like cortisol, which are released at high levels during chronic stress and depress the immune system.
Working out has a calming effect on the body. When all else is equal, the harder to exercise the calmer you’ll be.
Move your body, change your mind.
Exercise has been proven to:
- Boost confidence: Achieving a fitness goal, no matter how small, will give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Burn calories: How else does the weight melt away? Plus getting thinner and feeling more fit is likely to cheer you up.
- Redirect your focus: You’ll be too busy trying to do one more rep of that crunch, curl, or kick to think about anything negative.
Show you can do something positive: By choosing to get up and move, you’re taking care of yourself, and coping in a healthy way. And when you observe that, you’ll believe you can take other steps forward.
How much exercise makes a difference?
As little as 10 to 15 minutes of activity can improve your mood, especially if you’re doing something dynamic, like running or cycling. Harvard psychiatrist John J. Ratey, M.D., writes that a single workout can jump-start the feel-good chemical changes. So the most important thing is getting started. To get the greatest benefits, work your way up to at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 5 days a week.
What kind of workout is best?
One you enjoy. Seriously. If it’s not something you like, you’re less likely to make the effort. For instance, I don’t happen to be a fan of plyometrics, despite its many benefits. When I work out, I opt for cycling, yoga, or low-impact programs instead. They still get me sweating my way into a great mood. Identify the activities you enjoy, and get going.
How do you get started?
Choose something accessible. The power of exercise doesn’t come from fancy equipment, but from the effort you put in. If you pick something you can get to and that fits your timetable, you’ve lowered the barriers to beginning. For example, you can:
- Turn everyday errands into workouts when you do them on foot or by bike. (Extra points for adding a hill, or taking the long way home.)
- Check out the activities offered at your local park, like swimming, basketball games, or fitness classes.
- Commit to an in-home Beachbody® workout program that’s sure to fit your schedule.
So start today. Boost your activity level and help put a smile on your face. Because you don’t have to wait for the sunshine to feel good.
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