Research suggests that 30 minutes a day of exercise can boost your mood in addition to making your body healthier. In times where our mental health is struggling more than ever before due to the pandemic and lockdown, exercising could be an important factor to boost our mood.
There’s nothing like an exercise-induced ‘endorphin rush’, but according to health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the endorphins only explain a small part. It increases many more brain chemicals than endorphin that make you feel happy. “When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid — these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress and even less physical pain,” McGonigal says.
According to Shawn Achor, psychologist, Harvard researcher, and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, when you raise the positivity levels in your brain, you actually do better work and, generally, are happier. Exercising is a way to raise these positivity levels and thus can makes us happier by lowering stress levels, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, and helping people relieve anxiety and depression, among other benefits.
“Right now, the debate in the research world is over how big the benefits of exercise truly are, but those are just details,” explains Art Kramer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health at Northeastern University. “What everyone agrees on at this point is that exercise has the ability to change your mood because it has a dramatic impact on your brain. While exercise does have those short-lived mental health benefits, it also actually changes the structure and function of your brain over time,” he continues. “The general consensus is that a multitude of beneficial and chronic changes for a healthier brain and mind can happen if you exercise for an hour a day, three days a week.”
In this time, we see a lot of people going exercising at home or outdoors, because many gyms are closed. “Exercising outdoors has an immediate effect on mood that is extremely powerful for depression and anxiety. Because it induces a state in your brain that is very similar to meditation, the state of open awareness,” McGonigal said. “For people whose minds are not their best friends and deal with rumination and worrying, something as simple as going for a walk or bike ride outdoors can have an immediate profound effect that can help give tremendous relief because it invites the mind to shift spontaneously without any effort into this meditative like state,” McGonigal said.
She continues; “Movement itself primes you to connect with others. That’s just the brain chemistry of it. When you get your heart rate up, when you use your body, when you engage your muscles, it changes your brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier to connect with others and bond, trust other people. It enhances social pleasures like a smile” McGonigal said.
This is very important as we look at the loneliness rates during these times of the pandemic. Of course, we cannot hug each other or sometimes even be in each other’s company in real life, but the feeling of being connected to the society and cherish the little small talks with cashiers at (essential) shops, or the online (pub) quiz with friends or family also contributes to meaningful moments.
How can we see this visual in society today?
When it comes to exercising from home, the very act of maneuvering a yoga mat around your furniture can be its own form of gymnastics, one that’s even more exhausting than your actual workout. In response to this dilemma, Amsterdam-based design studio H-O-TT has developed a line of workout equipment that doubles as stylish home furniture. ‘Furfit,’ ranges conceptual furniture proposes five ways that common gym equipment could be merged with furniture, in a bid to open the benefits of at-home workouts up to those living in small spaces.
The collection includes dumbbells that are also coffee table legs, push-up bars that can be used as stools, lightweight dumbbells that can be turned into a coat hanger, a curl bar that’s also a high stool, and a kettlebell that creates a side-table.
According to H-O-TT founder Luca Beltrame, the idea came about during corona virus lockdown, when homes took on the role of makeshift offices and gyms. “Living in a typical Dutch apartment, the space to workout wasn’t generous, so we started to think about a way to upscale our living room and find an active use for the pieces of furniture that were otherwise limiting our movements,” he said. “It’s a way of transforming limitations into potential, simply achieving more with less.”
Another game-changer in home workout equipment is the Los Angeles-based fitness company Equipt, that have a collection of hand weights that are worthy of being given pride of place in your home. Equipt’s signature U-barre is an ergonomic piece that combines weight with an element of support so that it can be used in lieu of a kettlebell, dumbbell, yoga block, or a resistance weight while doing high repetition exercises. The U-barre purposefully cuts a sculptural figure to motivate you. The company states “We believe that beautiful design inspires movement. You reach for what makes you feel good. By revamping traditional strength training equipment to be pieces for everyday living, from the ultimate ankle weight to the perfect home workout equipment we keep you moving all day long.” “We are advocates of movement. Whether it be cardio dance around the house, arm workouts from the desk, or planking thru the day. We believe that beautiful design incentivizes that movement. That the definition of a workout and health is not how long you have spent in a gym and your abs. It’s your definition, of what makes you feel good. Ownership for decisions, getting blood flow and helping the mind, body and spirit. When you don’t have to hide your weights, you will reach for them.” they added.
A brand that also aims the luxury feel within exercise equipment is Italian textiles brand Loro Piana. This brand elevated workout gear to the luxury realm with its new ‘Art of Wellbeing’ collection in collaboration with model Christy Turlington. Comprised of a mindfulness kit for low-impact yoga and meditation, a shape kit for more dynamic cardio workouts, and an exploration kit for outdoor activity, the collection sees the brand applying its signature, superlative cashmere to all manner of exercise equipment. Items like weights padded with cashmere, a leather-handled jump rope, and a cashmere covered fitness ball are so soft to the touch that, maybe for the first time ever, you’ll actually want to pick up your workout gear.
‘I know I can positively alter whatever mood I am in by moving,’ urges Turlington. With many of us still working from home, there’s no better time to invest in luxury loungewear, or to get into better health habits at home. ‘Loro Piana Wellness products feel incredible and are so comfortable you really do want to live in them, but they are also elegant and put together at the same time. Functionality is important, as is wellness and wellbeing in every aspect of my life,’ Turlington explains, ‘These days my life is more integrated than before so dressing for a day that includes taking care of my family and myself as well as interacting with colleagues and partners throughout the day is more fluid than ever before.’
How can this help us in the future?
As a society we are having a hard time staying positive during the pandemic. The World Health Organization states on their website that “Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So, it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.” They continue; “Added to the fear of contracting the virus in a pandemic such as COVID-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental, as well as our physical, health.”
Scientists conclude that exercising has great benefits on our mental health and will increase our happiness. Exercising is a way to raise positivity levels and can makes us happier by lowering stress levels, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, and helping people relieve anxiety and depression, among other benefits.
At this time and age, we have to see exercise as a luxury and as an investment in body and mind. So, stop reading and go workout! Go on a walk outdoors or go to YouTube to search a workout that fits you the best, because having a healthy mind, is just as important as having a healthy body.