Workouts can improve your mood as well as your muscle tone, whether you are feeling down in the dumps or stressed out after a long day at the office. If you are already feeling happy at the end of a productive week, mood-boosting exercise can be the icing on the cake, adding a pleasurable high -- without the sugar -- to your good spirits. What is the best way to find the type of exercise that will improve your mood as well as your body? "It depends on the particular person -- that's my refrain," says Kate F. Hays, PhD, a Toronto-based psychologist and author of Move Your Body, Tone Your Mood. "Individuals have to find exercises that appeal to them, the kind they actually enjoy."
For Hays, that type of exercise is running. "I was a practicing clinical psychologist in New Hampshire when I started running," she recalls. "I fell in love with it. And I became really intrigued by how I was able to problem-solve my own issues while running. As I learned and understood more, I began to incorporate exercise into my practice. Now, when seeing a new patient, I build in from the beginning that physical activity is going to help their mental health. I will walk -- and, sometimes, run -- with my patients during sessions."
- Whatever type of exercises you are considering, Hays suggests a few guidelines: Exercise should be rhythmic and repetitive rather than stop and go to keep your heart rate at an elevated, yet even, level. Think cycling or running.
- Exercise should require little skill or training, allowing you to perform without too much concentration.
- Exercise should be non-competitive. Why risk your mood on winning or losing?
- Exercise should be of moderate intensity.
Remember: these are only guidelines. The type of exercise you choose is up to you. Some days you may be happy walking, but if you are experiencing depression or anxiety, high intensity types of exercise may give you the biggest mood boost.
April Swales, a personal trainer at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas, Texas, agrees that finding the ideal type of exercise is an individual matter: a one-size-fits-all approach won't work. In her case, she finds that relaxing stretches done to soft music are the most effective way to beat back the stress of a bad day. Some forms of yoga and tai chi also can help you wind down. Other people battle stress by sweating it out on the stair climber. Still others find exercise classes relaxing, because their stress comes from being in charge all day. In class, they follow instructions rather than give them -- for a change.