We’ve long known about the power of exercise to boost our mood, but only now have experts begun to unravel the complex scientific reasons behind it.

Even more exciting is that we are beginning to understand that training can be tailored to correct a particular mood.

Emphasized? A single run creates higher levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine — part of the fight-or-flight response — which helps nip that stress in the bud.

Want to enhance the feeling of exercise euphoria? Do it to music. Catastrophe? Return to an even keel by cycling for ten minutes.

A single run creates higher levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine — part of the fight-or-flight response — which helps nip that stress in the bud

A new book promises to reveal exactly how and why exercise is so good for mental health.

Neuroscientist Dr. Mitu Storoni, author of Stress Resilience, The Scientific Solution to Protect Your Brain and Body and Be More Resilient Every Day, says the impact is deeper than we think. “Exercise correlates with better mood, lower rates of mental illness and, most importantly, better resilience to stress,” she says.

Here’s how to use your workout for maximum happiness…

FEELING BLUE? GET HIIT HAPPY

Zana Morris, celebrity trainer and nutritionist (zanamorris.com), started her career teaching yoga, but says “the reason I fell in love with short, high-intensity workouts was because I realized I could cleanse someone’s head faster in a 15-minute session than I could in an hour’s meditation.”

Part of that was because, as she says, “you can’t think and do high-intensity training successfully.”

So if you’re thinking, “this breaks that thought pattern—and I think it breaks it more effectively than any other form of exercise.”

She also notes that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be particularly effective in stimulating the “anti-obesity” hormone irisin (“it causes the body’s fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it”), which in turn increases the synthesis of a protein called BDNF— brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Research shows that BDNF plays a significant role in our well-being.

Regular resistance training for eight weeks will significantly boost your mood, says Dr. Staroni, citing a 2020 study published in Scientific Report

Regular resistance training for eight weeks will significantly boost your mood, says Dr. Staroni, citing a 2020 study published in Scientific Report

When the BDNF system is disrupted, we are more vulnerable to anxiety.

One 2014 study found that irisin levels increased significantly after just one HIIT session.

So what do we need to do to reap the rewards?

Well, HIIT is all about short bursts of intense activity. Try pedaling furiously on an exercise bike for four minutes, with 10 seconds of rest for every 20 seconds of activity. Working at the right intensity, you’ll be exhausted by the seventh or eighth set.

Zana coaches clients through 12- to 15-minute weightlifting sessions, but your HIIT might consist of sprinting or swimming “as fast as you can” for a while and then resting.

ANXIETY? RUN THE MILE OF GRATITUDE

We can’t run away from our worries, but we can run to help deal with them. Running can lift your spirits and help regulate your mood.

One reason is the runner’s high—the sense of elevation, reduced sensitivity to pain, and reduced anxiety caused by continuous aerobic exercise.

According to new research published this year in The Neuroscientist, it’s likely to do with endocannabinoids—natural hemp-like substances produced by the brain—rather than endorphins, as previously thought.

Aim for a happy medium between a full skin and a soft jog. Thirty minutes is the perfect amount of time.

If you’re feeling a mid-cycle slump, try the Mile of Gratitude. In this new trend, runners think grateful thoughts per mile to change a reluctant mindset.

It doesn’t just boost productivity—in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness.

STRESS? LIFTING DUMBBELLS

Regular resistance training for eight weeks will significantly boost your mood, says Dr. Staroni, citing a 2020 study published in Scientific Report.

Twice a week, subjects performed a series of resistance exercises (two sets of 8-12) including barbell squats, bench presses, deadlifts, dumbbell lunges, and crunches. After starting the training, the researchers noted “immediate improvement in participants’ anxiety” — and, after eight weeks, “a large reduction in anxiety symptoms.”

When you put your face in cold water, Staroni says, it triggers a life-saving physiological response called the

When you put your face in cold water, Staroni says, it triggers a life-saving physiological response called the “diving reflex” — one of the effects of which is an immediate slowing of your heart rate

Sarah Lindsay is the founder of Roar Fitness in Kensington, teaching classes using weights and weights. She’s also a former British Speed ​​Skating Champion and three-time Olympian, so it’s a great opportunity to back up those credentials.

“As an athlete, I always had high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. I was always nervous, I always had butterflies because I had to compete.” As she notes, “If you sit around and do nothing, those levels will stay.”

But when you exercise, it’s a virtuous cycle—exercise not only helps relieve stress, but stress helps you work. “When you’re stressed and you go to the gym, it makes you forget what you’re worried about because you have to focus on what you’re doing. You use that stress to achieve something.”

Accomplishment is part of what boosts mood, she says, and with strength training, progress is “very measurable.” “You go from 5kg to 20kg – you know you’re getting stronger.”

WORRIED ABOUT A WART? TRY BREATHING CONTROL

“Any exercise can lift your mood,” says Sarah Dray, a yoga and meditation teacher at Triyoga in London. “But yoga has additional benefits, including increased levels of a brain chemical called GABA—gamma-aminobutyric acid. This neurotransmitter is associated with better mood and lower levels of anxiety.”

Sarah cites a Boston University School of Medicine study in which researchers found a link between yoga and increased GABA, with levels remaining elevated four days after a single 90-minute session. Not only that, Dray says, when you practice yoga, you learn to control your breathing so that it’s slower and deeper, which has been shown to increase the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system and calm anxiety. Plus, she says, there are often inversions in yoga — like downward dog — which means the head is below the heart. These steps have been used by people for centuries to calm down.

In Resilience to Stress, Dr. Storoni explains why: Sensors around our chest, heart, and neck detect changes in blood pressure.

Do downward dog and the change in pressure can signal that your blood pressure seems high – prompting increased parasympathetic activity to lower it and thus calm you down.

NEED TO TEAM? ACCEPT 15C

When you put your face in cold water, Staroni says, it triggers a life-saving physiological response called the “dive reflex” — one of the effects of which is an immediate slowing of your heart rate. (Though submerging yourself in cold water can increase your risk of heart attacks, she notes, so don’t rush!)

Blood is directed to the brain and heart, while flow to nonessential muscles is restricted. What does that mean? Effectively, it gives a sense of calm.

How cold should the water be? Mike Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology and co-author of a study on the subject, believes the temperature is 15C or lower. Cold, but not icy.

If you bathe in a natural environment, even better, says Dr. Staroni. “Blue spaces, water and the sea have been recognized as important factors for good mental well-being.

HAVING A HARD TIME? SLEEP

Walking increases blood flow to the brain, which helps strengthen connections in the brain, says Dr. Jennifer Wild, a consultant clinical psychologist at Oxford University and author of Be Extraordinary.

When we walk, not only does our memory improve and our thoughts become clearer, but “we feel more optimistic and cope better with stress,” she says. Because our brain releases feel-good chemicals, we also become better problem-solvers.

A walk in a green zone is more uplifting than a walk in a gray space. As the authors of the 2022 study noted, “Green exercise has particularly positive benefits for emotional well-being that extend beyond the benefits of physical activity.”

Former Olympian Sarah Lindsay plays every morning – and finds her spirits lifted. “Go outside, breathe fresh air. It is the activity and movement of your body. It’s a time to yourself, an opportunity to have your own thoughts — a form of meditation,” she says. “I feel a great benefit.”

PROMOTIONAL? USE MUSIC TO HELP

When we listen to music, we pick up on its rhythm and predict the time of the next beat, says Dr. Staroni. Our brain likes to make accurate predictions and we get a mini boost of euphoria. “Every time you’re right, you feel rewarded,” she says.

Moving to the music gives even greater sensations. Experts call it “sensory-motor coupling” — but we can call it getting into a groove, says Dr. Staroni. “Synchronizing our movements to the beat is fun.”

Because of the biomechanics of our joints, our body has a preferred range of motion. According to her, walking feels best at a speed of about 120 beats per minute. And when we hear music with a tempo that matches the frequency we prefer, we want to move to it.

A pace of 125 to 140 beats per minute is optimal for a motivational push to run, says Dr. Storoni. (As a guide, Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Started the Fire is 145 BPM, while Uptown Girl is 129 BPM.)

She says that synchronicity does a good job of confusing your brain, as it begins to think that your step is creating the beat of the music.

“When you run like that, not only does it feel good because you’re locking into the perfect frequency. . . but you also feel that the world around you is under your control because you create the rhythm.’

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