Mood-Boosting Training Tips From Sports Psychologists

YoIt’s no secret that exercising has a variety of benefits. Sure, making time for a sweat session can improve your physical health, but it can also do wonders for your mind and, as a result, your mood.

While we know that exercising three to five times a week is ideal for maintaining health and achieving optimal physical benefits, we are beginning to wonder how long or how intensely you should exercise to noticeably improve your mood. Knowing we’re not alone in this inquiry, we chatted with two sports psychologists to shed some light on the intersection between fitness and mental health.

Why does exercise improve your mood?

Research shows that exercise has an immense effect on mood, particularly since it directly correlates with an increase in dopamine (also known as “the happy hormone”). According to a 2021 systematic review of studies on this effect published in brain science, the researchers concluded that, like prescriptions, physical activity should be a recommended measure to improve mental health. That’s how strong an effect it can have.

However, exercise doesn’t just increase dopamine levels. According to sports and performance psychologist Isaac Zur, PhD, CMPC, MHC, of ​​Mental Performance Consulting of NY, exercising also promotes elevated levels of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin.

In addition to stimulating some brain chemicals, Dr. Zur notes that some low-key forms of exercise can also lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (Think: yoga, easy walks.) However, it’s important to note that some research suggests that vigorous physical activity, in which a person uses more than 60 percent of their maximum heart rate, can temporarily increase cortisol levels, since it goes hand in hand. hand in hand with adrenaline, the chemical known to make us feel ready to take on any physical feat. That’s why some therapists recommend that patients with a history of anxiety approach high-intensity exercise with caution.

Beyond the physiological effects of exercise, Dr. Zur says that physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn can boost cognitive function. It also simply improves self-esteem “because of the increased sense of personal fulfillment,” he says.

All of these things together create an almost instant post-exercise mood.

How long do you have to exercise to improve your mood?

Since not everyone has the same physique, fitness level, or preferred type of exercise, Dr. Zur says it’s hard to give a universal prescription for how much exercise you need to improve your mood. But he’ll probably want to get in half an hour or more to see the difference. “In general, a moderate intensity workout that lasts at least 30 minutes can effectively boost endorphins and improve your mood,” he says.

4 Ways to Get the Most Mood Boost From Your Workout

Opt for workouts that prioritize bursts of energy.

Remember: The key to a mood-boosting workout is to stick to a moderate intensity, at least. That could mean jogging, a cardio dance class, or a casual bike ride.

“Alternating high-intensity exercise with short rest time or lower-intensity exercise (like in a HIIT class) is also another great booster,” says Brenley Shapiro, MSW, RSW, RP, a sports psychologist and performance consultant, who is the founder and president. Heads Up High Performance. “Hockey is another great example of this for a team sport: Players get a strong boost of energy and intensity for their turn, which lasts 35-40 seconds, followed by a rest time on the bench…until your next turn.”

According to Shapiro, when you alternate exercise intensities, you can properly increase your heart rate while maintaining a longer performance time, which in turn allows you to experience all the mood benefits.

If ice hockey isn’t your style, a bootcamp-style class like Barry’s will have you covered.

Train with other people

“Exercising with friends or in a group setting is a great mood booster, whether it’s in a group exercise class, team sports, working out with a friend, or just going for a walk with someone,” says Shapiro. “We know that the human/social connection is the foundation of human motivation, so right there, that provides a huge boost.”

As a bonus, Shapiro notes that exercising with friends also helps with responsibility and social support, which can make your health and wellness goals feel more achievable. If you don’t already have fitness-focused friends, join a local running club or book a group training class like Orangetheory.

Pick an all-star playlist and turn up the volume

Music has a known benefit in improving mood. “Creating a playlist of your favorite upbeat songs can be a great mood booster,” says Shapiro. “We know that music alone activates the pleasure centers of the brain (in fact, the same pleasure centers that sex activates), so what a great boost to combine with the existing[neurotransmitter boost]from exercise alone.” .

Make time for more mindful exercises

If you hope to use your training as a decompression retreat away from your high-stress daily life, make time for more relaxing workouts. “Mindfulness-based exercises can help maximize those feel-good chemicals and sustain them for longer periods of time,” says Shapiro, noting that examples include yoga, tai chi, and even meditation. “These types of exercises help calm the body and clear the mind, thus reducing cortisol, the stress chemical, in the body. This helps deepen relaxation and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

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