Get Happy: Why Exercise Can Lift Your Mood

How to keep the blues at bay and reap health benefits, too
happy man biking through city exercise

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common illness globally. It affects about 264 million people worldwide, and when it’s moderate or severe, it can turn into a serious health problem. While psychotherapy and medication are effective, there is one treatment for depression that is free and universally available — exercise.

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“Not only can exercise help ease depression, but it can also lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile, help control blood sugar and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes and common cancers,” says integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD. And of course, exercise can make it possible to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

How exercise can make you happy

Physical activity, along with food choices and stress levels, can profoundly affect mood and reduce your risks of anxiety and depression. Here are five reasons why exercise can put you in better spirits.

1. Stress is less likely to lead to depression if you exercise 

It’s a sad fact, but according to the CDC data released in 2019, 4.7% of adults age 18 or older have regular feelings of depression. High-stress lifestyles tend to be a major source of depression

Mood matters. The increased release of stress hormones can damage or prevent cell growth in the regions of the brain that control our moods. 

Therapy helps. Psychotherapy and anti-depressants can be effective. However, about one-third of people with depression utilize them. 

2. Exercise is a legitimate treatment for depression

It’s official. The American Psychiatric Association recommends exercise as a treatment option for depression. It’s effective alone or when combined with standard treatments. 

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And it works. Randomized trials offer solid evidence that aerobic (walking, running, biking) and resistance/ strength training benefits those with depression. 

Keep it up. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week. We know it sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not. Just break it up into five 30-minute sessions a week.

The fog will lift. Depression can lift within four weeks of starting an exercise routine. 

3. You can establish a workout routine that you enjoy

Take strides towards a better mood. Enjoy walking? Work up to 10,000 steps a day to reap the best health benefits. 

Shake a leg. If you lose interest, try a new fitness class. Sign up for Zumba. Begin a yoga practice. Start cycling with friends. 

Or save time. Ask your doctor if brief, high-intensity circuit training using bodyweight might work for you. No equipment is needed and you can do it anywhere

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4. Any amount of exercise can help

It’s all good. If you’re not meeting exercise guidelines, don’t despair. Some physical activity can still reduce depression. Dr. Todorov’s motto is “Some is good, more is better.”

Meet and greet. Socializing with others in virtual or in-person fitness classes can help boost your mood. Find a buddy to motivate and support you.

5. Enjoy benefits that extend beyond the brain

Have a healthier future. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile and help control blood sugar. 

Get sturdier bones. Exercise strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility and balance and helps strengthens bones. 

See a leaner side of yourself. Regular physical activity helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight and look your best.

No medication can do so much! Exercise is a fabulous prescription for health. It’s free. It’s readily available, and if you choose something you like, it’s fun. 

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