It's often said that you should never run from your problems. We at Modern Might feel otherwise. Exercise is a smart strategy for coping with negative feelings. Some studies even suggest that regular exercise may be as effective as medication in alleviating the symptoms of depression.
How Exercise Improves Mood
There are several theories about how exercise relieves the blues.
The Endorphin Hypothesis: This is one of the most well known theories. It suggests that exercise improves mood by increasing levels of endorphins, a mood enhancing hormone.
The Monoamine Hypothesis: Many scientists believe that a decrease in the levels of certain neurotransmitters may cause or contribute to depression. According to the monoamine hypothesis, it's believed that exercise may improve moods by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
The Thermogenic Hypothesis: Proponents of this theory believe that exercise relieves the blues by increasing our core body temperature. This leads to a warming of crucial brain regions, which may create feelings of relaxation and decrease muscle tension.
The Distraction Hypothesis: This hypothesis has its roots in psychology. It proposes that exercise helps to short circuit the endless cognitive ruminating that is linked to depressed moods. This means that exercise may help by distracting us from the negative thought patterns that perpetuate our dark feelings.
The Self-Efficacy Hypothesis: Psychologist Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as an individual's belief in his or her ability to succeed at specific tasks or challenges. The self-efficacy hypothesis suggests that exercise may improve our mood by increasing our confidence and feelings of competency.
Which of these hypotheses is correct? More research is needed before we can be certain exactly how exercise enhances mood. As with most complex biological mechanisms, exercise's ability to improve our moods is probably due to a combination of several of the above theories. One thing is well supported by all the research, though: exercise has the power to alleviate depression and make us feel better. This is just one of the many reasons why it's important that we prioritize consistent and frequent exercise.
Additional Tips for Increasing Exercises Mood Enhancing Powers
Exercise outside: As we discussed in our article on Seasonal Affective Disorder, both exercise and increased time outdoors can help improve mood. Why not take advantage of both effects at the same time by exercising outdoors when the weather allows?
End your workout with a little meditation: As noted in our article about the positive effects of meditation, meditation is a natural happy pill.
Drink some coffee before your workout: The blues often kill our motivation. A little caffeine can help give you the energy you need to hit the gym.