A bit of science first
When you exercise, it’s thought that the levels of serotonin (a feel-good hormone) increase. And what’s great is that the payoff for getting active is pretty much instant. You feel good immediately after you’ve done it. Exercising regularly also helps you sleep, which is thought to have a protective effect on your body and mind. And psychologically, exercise can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
We’ve looked at three popular types of exercise that seem to promote a particular mood. Of course, everyone is different and what works for one person might not for another. But why not give them a try and see – you might discover a new way to exercise that you’ve not considered before.
1. Dance your way to happiness
It’s one of the main things people choose to do on a Saturday night – go out dancing! And even if you’re not out dancing, chances are you’re watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly. Wherever you do it; around your handbag on the dance floor, in your living room, or at a structured dance class, here are some of the reasons why it makes you feel good...
Some research has shown that dancing with a partner can improve your self confidence. And the more you do it, the more likely you are to feel the benefits.
Another study looked at all the different motivations for why people like to dance socially, including reasons such as improving fitness and self-esteem, building social connections and as a form of escapism. In the study, enhancing mood was the clear winner, followed by building self-confidence.
It’s more than just about the movement – it’s the music too and this might be what gives dancing the edge when it comes to generating a happy mood.
Think about your favourite song – during the lead up to breaking in to that great sing-along chorus, your emotions become heightened and this, combined with your anticipation, releases dopamine into your brain – another feel good hormone. That’s why music gives you goose bumps. Combine this with the mood-boosting effects of exercise and you’re onto a winner.
2. Keep calm and do yoga
Yoga is an ancient practice. People have been doing it for thousands of years as a way to generate a sense of wellbeing. It’s particularly great if you want to feel more at peace.
Yoga is a mind and body practice that involves movement, breathing and meditation. This unique combination has positive effects on both your body and mind, resulting in a sense of tranquillity, relaxation and calm. It does this by shifting the balance from one part of your nervous system (your sympathetic nervous system) that activates the fight or flight response to the part that restores and relaxes (your parasympathetic nervous system).
Yoga suppresses the areas of the brain that are responsible for fear and aggression and instead stimulates parts of the brain that generate feelings of bliss and wellbeing.
One of the great things about yoga is that it slows things down, lowering both your heart rate and blood pressure.
If you’re keen to give it a go, you can read more about the different types of yoga on our blog: The benefits of yoga.
3. Take a walk on the wild side to reduce your worries
Walking is gentle on the body and a great way to explore your local area and be social too. But have you ever thought about where you’re walking and what effect this might have on your mood?
According to research, a 90-minute walk in nature can help you ‘let things go’ and stop worrying and ruminating (dwelling on things). The key thing here is that it has to be in natural surrounding – a field or forest for example – an urban environment won’t have the same effect.
The nature walkers in this particular study also had lower levels of activity in the part of the brain (called the subgenual prefrontal cortex) that is active during rumination, which is a possible reason why they felt less worried about things after walking.
Furthermore, another study found that 50 minutes out walking in nature can decrease anxiety levels. It’s suggested that we have a close connection with nature that we associate with safety (especially places that have lots of trees). It’s the perfect antidote to a busy or stressful morning at work – use your lunch break to take a walk at a nearby park or green space.
Another study found that walking in nature with a group had a positive effect on mood too. So whether you go for a stroll on your own or with others, research suggests that both are good for your mood and mental wellbeing.
We can’t say for sure that dancing, yoga and walking in nature will ignite these particular emotions that we’ve discussed above. That’s because scientifically it’s difficult to prove and it’s a relatively new area of research, so there’s still more work to do. Furthermore, everyone is individual and may respond differently! However, we absolutely do know that being physically active is good for your health in a variety of ways and should be part of your daily routine. And with so many different ways to get active, the choice is yours!
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