neta & afaa Certified Trainer

It’s about that time of year when the sight of wool makes your skin crawl — literally. We’ve been insulated by layers of clothing (and the occasional comfort food) and it’s finally time to peel it all away. With spring in sight, the longer days and better weather mean a renewed energy to commit to your exercise routine. Your mood may just depend on it!

There is a saying in the fitness industry that says, “You are one workout away from a better mood!”

So why does exercise improve your mood?

When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals all work together to make you feel good. In addition, after exercising you may feel a sense of accomplishment and your muscles will relax deeper because of the workout — easing tension and strain.

These “happy chemicals” create feelings of well-being, power and control. The reason for this may lie in a survival mechanism honed by mankind. Endorphins are triggered by any strenuous activity. Thus, they may have helped our ancestors to escape from further attack despite serious injuries.

Regular exercise leads to increased energy levels. At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive that expending energy through exercise actually creates more energy, but it does. As you exercise, your heart rate increases and circulates super-oxygenated blood at faster rates. As this blood circulates throughout the body, more oxygen is then delivered to the muscles, the brain and the rest of the body. The effect of this increase in oxygen-rich blood allows for quicker recovery, heightened brain activity and an overall greater level of productivity.

A long-term exercise regimen can also lead to higher self-esteem. The observable results — better muscle tone, loss of body fat — are just part of the reason why people who work out feel better about themselves. Overall body function and health improve, and the brain is more efficient. The increase in energy leads to greater productivity at work and in the pursuit of pleasurable activities. As you accomplish more, you feel like a successful person who is in control of his or her life.

While exercise is not, on its own, a treatment for clinical depression, studies show that exercise can help improve mood temporarily in depressed individuals. In fact, for people with mild or moderate depression, 30 minutes of intense exercise can be as effective as medication for improving mood. People who do not respond to depression medications may show improvement in mood when they exercise.