No need for intense workouts to boost your mood

written by Meena Azzollini

Two smiling women friends walking on beach together

Credit:123RF

We know that exercise is good for us – for our physical health and also for our mental wellbeing. Previous research has shown that exercise helps us better manage our emotions, particularly those that revolve around negative feelings such as sadness and depression.

While the previous study involved participants jogging for 30 minutes – equivalent to vigorous exercise activity – new research shows that even light to moderate intensity physical activity will help reduce depression and make you feel better emotionally.

Light physical activity involves taking a leisurely walk (even through a shopping centre) with no noticeable increase in breathing, heart rate or sweating. Moderate physical activity is equivalent to a 15-20-minute mile with increased breathing, heart rate and sweating, but you can still carry on a conversation. Vigorous exercise refers to a brisk walk or jogging a 13-minute mile with a very noticeable increase in breathing, heart rate and sweating and not being able to carry on a conversation.

In this study, which was conducted to test the effect of activity intensity on subjective wellbeing, 419 healthy middle-aged adults were recruited to track their physical activity over four days. They wore accelerometers on their hips to help track their activity.

People who participated in low intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological wellbeing and lower levels of depression.

Participants also completed questionnaires which described their daily exercise habits, psychological wellbeing, depression levels, pain levels and the extent to which pain interfered with their daily activity.

The researchers found that participants who a reported sedentary lifestyle (those who spent a large part of their day sitting) had lower levels of subjective wellbeing.

Physical activity in general improved everyone’s sense of wellbeing. But some intensity levels of activity were more beneficial than others. People who participated in low intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological wellbeing and lower levels of depression. Those who participated in moderate-intensity activity reported higher levels of psychological wellbeing and lower levels of pain severity.

People who led a sedentary lifestyle and engaged in light or moderate activity showed the highest levels of improvement in their overall sense of wellbeing.

Although light and moderate intensity activity clearly made people feel better about themselves, when it came to intense physical activity, the results were neutral – meaning there was no positive or negative association between high-intensity and subjective wellbeing.

Previous research has been unclear  about which intensity levels are good for subjective wellbeing, and many studies have tried to identify the kind of regimen that will improve people sense of wellbeing.

This study, which tackled both objective and subjective aspects, clearly indicates that light to moderate exercise will make you feel better about your wellbeing.

It’s not a case of more is better but rather about performing some physical activity, even taking a walk. It will lift your spirits and improve your wellbeing.

Source: Journal of Health Psychology


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!