exercise mood motivationExercise helps mood and motivation! We are not just saying that. There is enormous clinical evidence that supports the assertion. Yet, many psychologists still don’t recommend it as a course for improving mental health.

The fact is, and most of us have experienced it, after a stressful day at work exercise will make you feel better immediately. This is not to suggest that you treat it as a short-term option either. There is enough evidence to support the fact that exercise helps mood and motivation, as well as help cure longer term depression. The relationship between exercise and mood is well-established and today we are going to take a look at what it is.

Exercise and the Brain

So how exactly does exercise help mood and motivation? The truth is that there are myriad of factors at play. Exercise affects the human body on so many levels that it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the improved mood. There are physiological as well as psychological reasons behind this.

As far as physiological reasons go, research suggests that exercise helps regulate the levels of serotonin, a mood-affecting chemical in the body. It is also known to increase the development of neurons in the brain, thus improving brain activity. As for psychology, exercise gives a person struggling with motivation, something to do, something to stay occupied with. It provides them with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of achievement which is vital for improving mood and motivation.

Some other factors that make exercise good for the mood include:

  • It triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins
  • It strengthens the immune system making you less susceptible to weakness
  • It regulates body temperature and weight, which are both known to affect mood
  • If you have motivation and mood issues, you are more prone to look towards alcohol and drugs for relief. Exercise is a healthy alternative that will also keep you busy enough to avoid that dangerous stuff.
  • It gives you something to do. Serves as a distraction from the daily grind of life, allowing you to get away from it all and find some calm.
  • If you exercise at the gym or the local park, it will give the opportunity to socialize and build relationships. Relationships are an important factor in feeling good about oneself.

Evidence That Exercise Helps Mood and Motivation 

There has been a load of research that looks into how exercise helps mood and motivation. Many of these studies conclude that broadly speaking active people are more motivated than inactive people.

One study conducted by James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist from Duke University, involved taking people with various depression-related conditions and studying them. The study found that after four months of observation, people who exercised regularly had better moods compared to the group that was on prescription antidepressants as well as the placebo group. Blumenthal later followed up this study with another one, which focused on how his test subjects were doing a year after the original test. This one showed that the subjects who had continued to exercise up till a year later were feeling much better about themselves and were more motivated compared to the ones who had given up on exercise or reduced its frequency.

In 2006, a study led by Dr. Michael W. Otto of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University looked into 11 different research papers on the subject of how exercise helps mood and motivation and evaluated them. He concluded that exercise was a fundamental tool for treating depression.

It is not that investigating how exercise helps mood and motivation does not any present any pitfalls. But the evidence that has emerged in its favor is eye-opening. The problem with prescribing exercise for mood is that researchers still don’t know just what type and frequency of exercise work best. To complicate the matter, there is also the problem of how well it overlaps with other therapies including prescription drugs.

Work is being done to clarify this aspect. Research, though, has proven that even for patients who do not feel better after drugs, exercise can do the trick. But just what type and amount of exercise helps mood and motivation is still up in the air.