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"When you are stressed or down, the best thing is to be doing some kind of exercise rather than eating a half gallon of Haagen Dazs," says Swales.

But what if you are not in the mood to exercise? When Swales has clients who resist exercise, she encourages them to start with a short routine of simple stretches. Shortly after they get started, she says, "They often end up changing their minds and doing a whole workout. But it's going to take about 20 minutes to hit that second wind." Try that yourself -- at home or at the gym -- whenever you find yourself resisting your workout.

To boost your mood without a gym membership, the types of exercise that Swales recommends depend on the time of day:

  • Morning: Stationary lunges are a great way to warm up the big muscles in your lower body; so are jumping jacks, push ups -- on your toes or knees -- and ab crunches. "You don't need any equipment, just space," says Swales.
  • Noon: Put on some sneakers and go for a walk.
  • Night: Take a brisk walk before or after dinner. To reap the greatest benefit for both your body and your mind, make sure to keep your heart rate at 60% to 80% of its maximum. In other words, break a sweat.

Along with yoga and tai chi, says Swales, a gentle weight training workout can also help you minimize stress. On your circuit, set each machine at about 65% of your capabilities and do 12 reps.

It's easy to see some of the physical benefits of regular exercise over time. Just look in the mirror. So how do you calculate the effect on your mood? Hays suggests using a simple scale in which your worst mood is 1 and your best is 10. Just before you begin to exercise, notice where your mood falls on the scale. Do this again when your workout is over. You'll probably find your mood is significantly higher on the scale after you workout. And over time, that number will likely stay higher longer, no matter what type of exercise you do -- particularly if it is an exercise you actually enjoy.

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