Low mood: exercise your blues away

Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
14 December 2018

If you’re battling the blues or feeling a bit flat and fed up, doing some regular exercise could really help. When you’re feeling a bit low, exercise can feel like the last thing you want to do, I know. But, it might help to know how and why exercise can lift your mood. Plus we’ve also got some stories from people who can tell you more about what works for them.

How does exercise boost your mood?

How exercise boosts your mood and the reasons why it does so isn’t completely clear, but here’s what research has suggested or found.

Think good, feel good

Doing physical activity is great for all aspects of your health – your mental and physical wellbeing. And knowing that exercise has a positive effect on your health may even increase the benefits. For example, some research found that people who were told that doing physical activity was good for them had better physical health results.

Distraction reaction

Experts have suggested that exercise could help boost a low mood because it distracts you from your thoughts and worries. When you’re absorbed in an activity and focusing on hitting or kicking that ball, or making it another lap around the park – you’re more focused on what you’re dealing with in the present moment. It gives you a break from stresses that have happened in your day or can help lift you out of a low mood by breaking the pattern of it.

Confidence and motivation

It’s thought too that exercising increases your confidence and gives your motivation a boost. When you’ve been to the gym or a class you’ll often find yourself feeling pleased with yourself for doing it – it’s an achievement. And once you get into the swing of doing exercise regularly, you start to see results and you want to do more. Furthermore research has found that exercise may help improve your sense of self-worth and body image too.

Physical factors

It’s thought that exercising increases the levels of neurotransmitters and endorphins in your brain that make you feel happy. It’s also been suggested that the raise in your body temperature that happens when you exercise may also give your mood a lift.

As good as medicine

A Cochrane review (this is a collection of studies that have been looked at altogether and evaluated) found that exercise is as good as psychological therapy and antidepressants for treating mild depression.

How much exercise is enough?

Feeling down can sap your energy, which may put you off being more active. But you should feel better once you start moving. The good news is that doing just 10 minutes of exercise can be enough to make a difference to how you’re feeling. And once you get going you can always build up to doing more.

You may not feel like exercising every day, but it’s best to be active as regularly as you can. Ideally, aim for a ‘moderate intensity’ activity that makes you breathe faster, increases your heart rate and leaves you feeling warm.

Guidelines for everyone

The Department of Health suggests doing 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity on at least five days a week. This can prevent and manage over 20 long-term conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and mental health problems.

If you haven’t exercised for a while, or have any long-term health problems, speak to your GP. You may need to build more exercise into your life gradually. They may suggest some activities that you can try.

Exercise on prescription

If your low mood continues or affects your daily routine, make an appointment with your GP. In some areas, GPs can prescribe exercise as a treatment for a range of conditions, including depression.

For example, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends people with mild to moderate depression take part in around three sessions of exercise a week for 10 to 14 weeks. Each session should last around 45 minutes to one hour.

What type of exercise works?

We spoke to our colleagues to find out what exercise they do and how they feel it benefits their mood.

Gym time is me time

“As a Mum, I’m constantly running around looking after others, which is tiring and not always rewarding, so going to the gym is my much-needed ‘me time’ where I focus on feeling good about myself. It does my mind wonders and I’m much more ‘on form’ for the family when I create my own time to exercise.”

A walk in the woods with my four-legged friend

I walk my Labrador, Blue, at least once a day and find I always feel much better afterwards. Not only does a walk contribute to my step count, it makes sure I go out whatever the weather. While it’s tempting to have a duvet day when it’s pouring down with rain, I feel a real sense of accomplishment if I have had some fresh air, and it makes an afternoon on the sofa feel like a reward!

I love being out in nature too; if I’m having a bad day, there is something really soothing about a walk in the woods or across the fields, and it gives me time to think, without my phone or laptop. A long walk with friends is lovely too – especially with a pub lunch at the end of it – and I love finding new places to walk and explore.”

Yin yoga for deep relaxation

“I’ve recently taken up Yin yoga – a restorative type of yoga that focuses on the bones, ligaments and tendons. It involves holding certain floor-based poses for several minutes at a time. It can feel a little bit uncomfortable at first, being in a pose, but I enjoy sitting with it and gradually feeling any tension melting away. I find it deeply relaxing and enjoy having time to go into my internal world. I always finish the class feeling more at peace.”

Even healthy people become unwell sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

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