Mood boost: Five exercises to improve your mental health

Brits are in their second month of lockdown, so it’s no wonder people are starting to feel groggy, grumpy, and a little under the weather. The new lockdown rules allow unlimited outdoor exercise, as long as you conform to social distancing measures. Make the most of it and get moving.
Express.co.uk spoke to Steven Virtue, Fitness Content and Programming Manager at totalfitness.co.uk, the North’s leading mid-market health club, to find out which exercises promote better mental health.

Mr Virtue said: “There are plenty of steps that can be taken at home to help improve your mood, besides re-watching favourite box sets and stocking up on sweet treats!

“Serotonin is a hormone produced in the body which signals to the brain when we’re feeling happy and there are plenty of ways to stimulate the body’s production of this important hormone.

“From getting more sunlight and listening to music, to spending time with friends and family and eating healthy foods, for those in the know there’s always a way to enjoy a natural pick-me-up.

“One of the quickest and most effective ways to help your body produce serotonin is to break a sweat and many forms of exercise will even allow you to incorporate some of the other serotonin-boosters previously mentioned into your workout, too.

“For those extra serotonin boosts, try these exercises outside in the sunshine and pop some headphones in so you can listen to your favourite uplifting tunes while you work-out.

“If you’re fortunate enough to be living with someone else during this time, you can get them involved in your work-out too – exercise is always more enjoyable when you have a partner to chat to and keep you motivated.”

Read on to hear the top exercises that stimulate the production and release of serotonin.

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Dancing

You can’t go out to the clubs and have a dance with your friends, but you can still dance at home for no reason other than exercise!

Mr Virtue said: “Dancing is a great form of aerobic exercise that gets the blood pumping and the heart-rate up.

“Pair the physical challenges of this energetic activity with the mood-boosting benefits of music and you’ve already ticked two of the serotonin product boxes, meaning you’re onto winner.

“What’s more, dancing is something that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy, so regardless of whether you’re a salsa-pro or you’ve got two left feet, simply having a go is enough to burn some serious calories and get the serotonin flowing.

“For a next-level dancing challenge, why not get on board with this season’s latest social media craze and challenge yourself to learn a TikTok dance routine.”

Running

Running is among the top exercise trends during lockdown and is also great for your mood.

Mr Virtue explained: “Running is one of those love it or hate it exercises that really divides people, but like many things in life, it can become enjoyable with a little practice.

“Running is one of the best ways to produce serotonin naturally and so if you can stick with it past those first few runs, you’ll reap huge rewards.

“For those struggling to keep at it, there are resources available that can help you structure your running development, such as the NHS Couch to 5K which provides a guide to gently building up stamina and fitness in short achievable sessions over a series of weeks.”

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Cycling

Cycling is Britain’s latest fitness craze, so why not jump on board?

Mr Virtue said: “For those that simply loathe the idea of pounding the pavements another option with similar mood-boosting benefits is cycling.

“During lockdown you can make the most of your hour outside by getting on your bike and giving your legs a good workout.

“Whether you’re living with a housemate or looking for ways to occupy the kids, cycling is something that can be hugely enjoyable as a group activity.

“Remember, the harder you work the more serotonin your body will produce, so if you’re in need of a bigger boost, opt for a more challenging route with inclines or simply take the longer route.

Yoga

Yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is great for the body and mind.

Mr Virtue said: “Yoga is a fantastic way to reduce anxiety and stress levels thanks to its combination of calming breathing techniques and muscle-relaxing stretches that release physical tension.

“Total Fitness recently commissioned a study of 2,006 UK adults which identified that as many as 40% of millennials regularly practice yoga and of those, 1 in 3 feel less anxious and stressed afterward.

“The combination of deep targeted breathing and slow stretching helps to relieve physical tension in the body and slow down the heart-rate, both of which aid relaxation and will have you feeling better in no time.

Walking

Walking isn’t as high impact as running, but it’s still a form of exercise.

Mr Virtue said: “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that walking is exercise and, just like other activities that get you moving, walking also helps the body produce happy endorphins.

“Ideal for those who are new to exercise or are living with injuries, a brisk walk can help transform a bad day into a good day by stimulating the production of serotonin – and as an added bonus, 30 minutes of brisk walking will also burn between 100-300 calories.

“For additional pick-me-up benefits, why not plug into some music on your walk while you enjoy the sunshine and take in the beauty of nature, which in itself is a fantastic mood-booster.”

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