Exercise and mood
According to recent research, the limited availability of activities during lockdown may exacerbate low mood and depression, leading to longer and more regular periods of both.1
The researchers found a significant link between rarely or never practicing exercise, and low mood and depression. On the other hand, people who proactively engaged with a series of activities were less likely to experience low mood.
The study concluded that helping people to control their mood through a choice of activities could help regulate their mood and help prevent/treat depression. This, they noted, was particularly relevant during lockdown when our choice of activity is very restricted.
What is the best exercise for my mood?
Any exercise is good for our mood2 - even doing a workout via Zoom or enjoying a spot of cooking that involves moving around the kitchen and chopping up lots of ingredients!
Also, you might be interested to know that steady housework is a good starting point towards a more active lifestyle as it's a great way to get the whole body moving. This is particularly good news at the moment as ironing, dusting, hoovering, cleaning windows and even polishing doors are all things we can safely do at home to pass time during lockdown!
However, as our choice of sporting activity may be a bit limited at the moment, let's look at the benefits of the activities we can actually do!
As it isn't too strenuous, walking is a good option when you are feeling stressed, anxious or low and find it hard to summon the energy to get out. It's backed by science too – studies show walking can reduce instances of depression.3
Getting outside to a 'green space' has been found to be particularly good for the mind.4 As parks in towns and cities can be quite busy at the moment, aim to go around dinner time when there may be fewer people about.
If you have a little more energy, running could be a good option. In studies, this has also been shown to benefit sufferers of depression.5 One particular piece of research concluded that runners had significantly more positive mood than non-exercisers, plus they were happier than those doing other forms of exercise such as weight lifting. This study also concluded that running could help people cope with stress and helped create a more positive feeling of well-being.
However, if you are a novice, don't go out and expect to run for 60 or even 30 minutes the first time! Instead, expect to build up your abilities with short weekly runs. If you run to the end of your road and walk the rest of the route, that's fine. The more you run, the more you'll see improvements in terms of how far you can go!
People often forget about this one, but gardening is a really good form of exercise. Digging up weeds gets the arm muscles working whilst potting plants in different areas means you are constantly walking around.
Studies have consistently shown that gardening is very good for the mind6 and some have even suggested it be incorporated into treatment programmes for conditions like depression.
There are lots of reasons why gardening is so good for the mind. First of all, it can expose us to sunlight which is thought to increase the production of a hormone called serotonin which is very good for mood. On top of this, seeing the 'fruits' of your labour can be a very positive experience (even if it is just a potted plant on a windowsill!) and tending to plants can be quite relaxing too.
Pilates involves a series of movements that are very good for strength, balance and flexibility, however research has also indicated the positive effect of regular Pilates on mood.7
There are SO many Pilates videos online – you can start as a beginner and learn a few movements that you can then practice in your free time. Simply type 'Pilates for beginners' into YouTube, find a workout that you like the sound of and set up some space in your garden or home to begin.
How does exercise help mood?
I've discussed some of the reasons why exercise is so good for mood but here are a few additional points:
- It lowers stress
- Reduces feelings of isolation (just saying hello to fellow walkers, even if you have to exercise alone, can be uplifting)
- Boosts mood by releasing endorphins
- Distracts from anxieties that can easily escalate if you are stuck in the same four walls all day!
- Releases other chemicals like dopamine and serotonin which are also good for mood.
- Can help to improve sleep
- Builds confidence as abilities grow week on week.
For more information on mood and exercise, check out my blog '5 ways exercise is good for the mind'.