Exercise is thought to enhance mood, and studies confirm this. According to research presented in Dr. Bob Arnot’s The Biology of Success, for moderate anxiety and depression, exercise is just as beneficial as counseling therapy, and results in brain chemistry change similar to what is experienced through pharmaceuticals. Exercise has been shown to raise serotonin levels. In fact, long term exercise, done regularly for years, actually changes personality traits. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I think a lot of the anxiety and depression in the U.S.A. is the result of altered brain chemistry resulting from living in ways contrary to our wiring, i.e. we are inactive, spend most of our time inside, live in big cities, etc, when our brains are wired for constant activity, being outside, living in the country, etc. Exercise may be one way to reconnect to our natural wiring.
However, not every exercise in every situations enhances moods. According to Arnot, “the harder, the better.” He believes we have been sold a bill of goods about “over-exercise.” He says that only about .01% of Americans are in danger of over-exercise, and these are well-trained athletes, while most of us are in danger of under-exercise. To see an enhancement in mood, we have to work a little lot.
Also, where we exercise has an impact on mood. Exercising outside seems to provide the most mood enhancement, as is confirmed by research mentioned in my article Sun and Speed, and by a 1995 study by Harte and Eifert, which I came across in The Biology of Success. The research by Harte and Eifert showed that those who exercised outside had greater mood enhancement than those exercising indoors. However, if those exercising indoors had plenty of stimuli around, i.e. watching people, looking out windows, listening to music, etc, they experienced mood enhancement. When the researchers placed participants on a treadmill in front of a blank wall, participants actually reported a worse mood following exercise. So, this research suggests that if you are using exercise to enhance your mood, you should make sure you are exercising vigorously (within your physical limits, of course, so consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine), and preferably exercising outside, or at the least, inside with plenty of stimuli around.
Recently, I have been feeling really craving aerobic exercise. I have been pushing up to about 7 miles of running, and I think this could be part of it, since I am perhaps hitting the point of a “runner’s high.” Or it could be that I have been taking phosphatidylserine prior to running, and it happens to kick in near the middle of the run.