OK, exercise! Boost my mood!

By exercising, I'll boost my mood!

I’ve written before about the many benefits of exercise, including brain health benefits. One of the main reasons that I exercise is to boost my mood. I have a tendency to be a gloomy person. If there’s a dark side to a situation, I’ll find it. Likewise, I hardly ever expect things to go well – any things. It’s always a pleasant surprise when things go right, or the way they’re supposed to. I exercise to counter my natural inclination.

I’m a natural pessimist

Here’s one example. I recently received a notice from the IRS that my business had filed its tax return late and was being assessed a hefty penalty. Of course, the return was not filed late and I had documents to prove it. But I did not expect to be able to reverse the penalty. I called to speak to an agent, of course and had to wait an hour for the call back. I was on tenterhooks the whole time I was waiting. Distracting myself with menial tasks helped somewhat, but I was still sweating when my phone rang.

Even though I did not expect a good outcome, I was pleasant to the agent and figured out how to fax (yes, FAX! – who has a fax machine these days?) copies of the documentation to her while I was on the phone. To my complete surprise, she agreed that the penalty should not have been assessed and removed it. Talk about things going right! 

But in the normal course of things, I expect that clients will cancel their appointments. And that their checks will bounce. That hasn’t happened yet, thank goodness.

My mood remains upbeat – exercise does that!

My mood, though, remains upbeat. Even when I expect things to go wrong, I try to have a smile on my face. And I attribute my ability to maintain a positive attitude to exercise. The Cleveland Clinic has shown that exercise causes elevated levels of endorphins, those hormones that improve your sense of well-being to be released in your body when it’s under stress.

A lower rate of depression and anxiety is attributed to exercise. Also, in the long term, people who exercise tend to have more low-key responses to stressful events. I’m firmly convinced that exercise helps keep me in a happier state and, therefore, more resilient. 

Exercise helps reduce depression

Another study showed that being active can help with depression specifically. The effects of a combined meditation and exercise routine were studied as the program related to depression: Twice a week, people with severe depression took part in 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise over the course of eight weeks.

The result? Improved mood and decreased depression. (They tried this same method on patients who weren’t depressed, and they felt better, too.) Notably, the participants experienced neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) — something that’s typically inhibited when someone has depression. Specifically, the growth of new neural cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and mood) plays an integral part in how your mind fights depression and controls mood — and aerobic exercise can greatly increase the number of cells produced there.

So, I’ll keep on exercising. It will boost my mood and my family will like having me around more.

I changed the time I run – What happened?

Changing the time I ran really made a difference.

I’ve written before that no matter what time of day you exercise, you’ll still get benefits. The important thing is that you exercise! And that’s true. My preference is to exercise early in the day because I feel so energized afterward. I’ve had to adjust to working out in the late afternoon, after work, though. But I had to switch my schedule last week on a running day to go into work later. I thought it would be interesting to see the effect of changing the time I ran. I usually run twice a week on the treadmill, because I think running outside is even worse than running on the treadmill. The only thing that makes running even tolerable is listening to a fast-moving action novel. No self-help or memoir for the treadmill. If I’m engrossed in the story, then I’m not ticking away the seconds on the treadmill timer.

Why run if it’s so hard?

Why do I run at all if it’s so hard for me? I like to play sports with my dogs – and running agility is just that – running. So I run for endurance and to try to be in the right place to give my dog the cues he needs.

Changing the time I ran made a big difference

My afternoon runs had been getting steadily faster and the intervals longer. The total time remained the same, but in those 20 minutes, the time I took to slow down between fast intervals was less. What a shocker, then, when I ran in the morning last Thursday! Changing the time I ran made a big difference in how I felt. 

Running early was so much harder than I thought it would be. My legs felt like lead pipes. My lungs were burning inside of 5 minutes. I couldn’t go as fast as I could just a few days before. The incline was excruciating. So I backed off. I ran more slowly. I shortened the fast interval. I decreased the incline. And I made arrangements to run early every Thursday, because the higher levels of Agility are run early in the day. If I’m going to be able to compete, I have to be able to run early. So I’ll train for it. I’m changing the time I run to get ready for competition.

Time of day actually does matter

As it turns out, though, the time of day does seem to matter in the actual results you might see. A recent study by researchers at Skidmore College showed that women who exercised in the morning had greater fat loss. Women who trained later in the evening gained more upper body strength and power. There was little difference in performance improvement in men.

All exercise will give you benefits for our healthy aging such as heart health, better sleep and improvements in your mood. But if you ladies want to lose more fat, try working out early!

A specific exercise for a specific memory?

Aerobic exercise to boost certain memories?

It could be that in the future, if you want to remember your shopping list at the grocery store without having to check your phone, you would do a specific group of exercises! Way, way in the future, so don’t get your hopes up. But new research has shown that certain types of exercise helped study participants in remembering certain types of data. We do know that exercise has benefits for our brain and mental health, but this is much more specific than we had previously thought. The thinking that if we do a specific exercise for a specific memory boost is remarkable.

Exercise improves brain health

It’s been shown that exercise improves memory on a general level, even after a single workout. And, on a long-term basis, exercise improves overall brain health. And studies have shown that over time exercise is associated with a reduced risk of brain health problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, both concerns for our healthy aging.

Different feelings after different workouts

I know that I feel differently after a run, for example, than after a Pilates session. I’m more energized (and sweaty) and outwardly happy after doing my run / walk workout. After a Pilates session, I feel calm, with a happy buzz. But I must admit that I hadn’t noticed specific memory improvements. I know that right after a workout I can remember some things better but hadn’t noted which “things!”

Correlation between exercise and memory

This research study by Dartmouth, published in Nature, delves into the correlation between exercise and memory. This was a relatively small study with only 113 participants, but the results are interesting. Fitbit data was analyzed after participants were given various types of memory tests post-workout. Researchers looked for patterns between those results and the workouts the participants did. 

Not surprisingly, the study showed that overall the more active people had better memories than the non-active people. But it also showed that high-intensity exercise was correlated with good performance on the “spatial-learning task” (remembering the positions of shapes on a screen). “Low-to-moderate-intensity” cardio activity, like going for a walk, was associated with improved “naturalistic recall” (remembering a narrative of events). And people who performed better on the foreign-language test “tended to be less active,” the report added, while participants who did well on free recall and naturalistic recall were more active.

So, this study supports previous research on exercise and memory, but it also presents a focus for future work needed. Could there be a specific exercise for a specific memory? Time and research will tell. I’ll be looking forward to reading the results.

I needed to release frustration

Pissed off! I got an unwelcome piece of mail a couple of days ago and was totally steamed by it. My company received a notice from the IRS about a penalty charged for late filing of a return. I knew that the return was filed on time, so I was angry. That turned into an overall bad mood. I knew that I needed to calm down to deal with this (in a day or two) because I had to give my 14-year-old dog a bath that day. I had to be calm and gentle with my dog. Not rip his legs off as I felt like in the moment. What’s the solution? A really intense workout to help release frustration and anger.

Kick boxing to the rescue

I chose a short (because I had things to do, obviously) but intense kick boxing program. Pump up the heart rate, get the sweat going and release the frustration.

The workout started with a warmup to let my muscles know they were going to have to do some work. And then eased into punches and kicks..

Mission accomplished

When that half hour was done, I was a sweaty mess, but I achieved my goal to workout to release the frustration. My mood was very much improved and I was able to give Tango a nice calming bath.

How does that work?

Side kick in a Turbo Jam workout

You’ve heard the phrase, “runner’s high?” Same thing works with other exercise that targets the cardiovascular system. Raise your heart rate for a sustained period of time, and your body releases endorphins. Those endorphins attach to your opioid receptors, causing a boost to your mood

So, my immediate mission was accomplished – I wouldn’t kill Tango during his bath – but I also did other good things for myself. I’ve written that exercise not only improves your mood but also has other benefits for our healthy aging: it improves memory, helps you sleep better, and improves optimism and resilience. Not only does a great workout release frustration and anger immediately, but it has other longer-lasting benefits.

All’s well

I dealt with the IRS and the agent I spoke with removed the penalty. I bathed my dog. And I was able to release frustration and anger. A good day.

Get up – get going – get it done

Get it done – no matter what it is

Get it done!

If you like to get stuff that  you don’t especially enjoy doing out of the way early, like I do, then this is for you! The great Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” And if you think about it, that’s probably true. And productivity expert Brian Tracy has expanded on Twain’s saying in his book, Eat That Frog. When I can, I try to abide by that precept – get up, get going, get it done. That way I have more time to do what I really want to do later on.

If you don’t like to exercise, you probably won’t do it

If you hate to exercise – I’ve said it before – you’re not going to do it. But if you find an exercise program that you don’t mind, and you like the music, the choreography, and the instructor, then you’re more likely to do it. If you have that program queued up, then you don’t have to waste time looking for it and you can just jump in. And if you don’t have anything else scheduled, you can exercise early and get it done. My favorite time to exercise is early – what a great feeling to get it done.

Taking action early = fulfillment

This maxim can translate to other areas of your life too. When you see yourself as someone who takes action, and takes it early on, there’s a real sense of fulfillment. It’s not enough to see yourself in a certain way, though, you have to take the steps to get it done. 

Perfectionist? Let it go

That could mean easing up on your perfectionist leanings. I know – you like things to be “just so.” But if you keep tweaking a project, it will never be finished. And done is almost always better than perfect. Naturally, check for typos and other obvious errors, but as a chilly heroine would say, let the rest go.

Other productivity professionals say, “Be dumber and care less.” I change that to “grow a thicker skin.” Of course we care about our work. Sometimes that shows up as, “perhaps I should tweak this sentence so people won’t think ‘X’ about me.” My rule has been to not overtly offend anyone, but if I have something important to say, then say it. You can be a genius, use all the high-falutin’ vocabulary, and finish a project in 3 weeks. Or you can just say something plainly and get it done. And once that thing is done, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment! It’s done! Finished! And I did it! So happy! What a boost to your optimism and resilience.

How to get it all done

Sounds good, right? But how to get it done efficiently? First, identify the project. Next, identify the steps you need to take. Third, flesh out those steps. And finally, get up and get going.

Enjoy everything in moderation – even wine

Surprising place for provoking thought

Reading about healthy aging at a tire store!
Health reading at a tire store

I had to get new tires for my car this week. It would take an hour but I was prepared with a book. There was an array of Wine Spectator magazines on the table in the waiting room. Surprising magazine choice at a tire store! I picked up the top copy and started to leaf through it. There was an article about wine and its health benefits, so I started reading. Going right along with what I’ve been saying for years, it turns out that enjoying wine in moderation is not detrimental and can actually provide some benefits. Enjoy everything in moderation – even wine.

But wait – the WHO says no alcohol

The World Health Organization decreed at the beginning of 2023 that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe. The paper cites previous studies in which alcohol was considered a cancer-causing agent. There was no study linking specific amounts of alcohol to cancer, however, merely the potential cancer-causing risk of alcohol consumption. It could be that the WHO considers that it may be all too easy for moderate consumption to become excessive consumption.

Some studies have shown benefits

But a recent study determined that moderate drinkers live as long as people who never drink. So, why not enjoy! And the Mayo Clinic has observed that the polyphenols in red wine may help protect the lining of the blood vessels in the heart. This could be the reason that red wine has been touted for its heart-healthy benefits.

The flavanols in wine have also been implicated in reducing cognitive decline and a reduced risk of stroke in moderate drinkers – which we all want for our healthy aging. Yes, the flavanols can also be found in other foods, but why not enjoy the wine? 

Enjoying with friends has other benefits

Wine, enjoyed with friends, has benefits beside the physical ones.
Wine, enjoyed with friends, has benefits beside the physical ones.

Another point to consider is that we often enjoy wine in the company of friends and family. Getting together in a social group is not just fun – fun planning and reconnecting with friends – but it also increases our resilience and optimism. Why not have a wine tasting at your next get-together. Tasting wine critically with friends will combine all of the benefits of good wine, good food and good friends.

Enjoy everything … in moderation – has been my motto for years. I never deny myself anything I really want. Chocolate cake? Pizza? You bet. I plan for it and that could make the enjoyment even greater. A new purse? New shoes? If I see something I really want, then I figure out a way to make it happen. I don’t splurge, but I enjoy.

So – enjoy everything. Even wine – in moderation.

Mindset matters

Start your day with a positive thought: "I get to play with my dog today!"
I play with my dog and he helps me!

Try something new tomorrow when you first wake up. Smile. That’s it. And maybe think something positive. Something good. Many days I say, “I get to play with my dog today.” Or perhaps, “I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing 1,000 words today.” You might realize, “I get to see my kids and have a great dinner tonight.” If you set yourself up in a positive way, your whole day will be better. Mindset matters.

Anything positive

That positive thought will set the tone for your whole day. Think about it – if you start out cranky, then even the most minor thing could make your day worse. Start out in a bad mood and a little spill could cause you to be angry all day. But if your mindset is positive you’re more likely to just shrug off that little spill, wipe it up and move on. So anything positive will help your day.

A while ago I wrote about 3 morning rituals that can help your day. Having a positive thought first thing could be the most important. The Dalai Lama said, “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”

Increase optimism and resilience

That positive energy from your one thought will cause you to become optimistic, and increase your resilience. And, you’ll be happier. All with that one thought. You’ve created positive energy for your day.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every day is all rainbows and unicorns. We all have to deal with everyday realities. Work has to get done. Articles (like this one) have to be written. We think about our friends who are going through tough times and commiserate with them. Try looking at things from another angle. Approach a problem looking for a positive outcome. And our own mindset matters. A positive mindset will surely help us along those bumpy roads.

Even the Mayo Clinic advocates positive thinking. As we get more used to positive thinking, we become more optimistic. And being more optimistic is key in managing our stress. If you’ve been in the habit of denigrating yourself – “my hair is terrible.” Or “I have no writing talent,” get over it! As I’ve said before – be nice to you! If you’re positive to yourself that, too, will extend to others.

Start your day positively. Because mindset matters.

3 Short methods to maintain your momentum

If it's a struggle every day to put on those sneakers, here are 3 methods to maintain your momentum.
Is it a struggle to put on those sneakers?

I get it. I do. You’ve been exercising for weeks and it’s dull. You’ve made good progress but it’s a struggle every day to put on those sneakers. So, how can you maintain your momentum and not sit back on the couch? How can you keep that appointment with yourself and exercise? Yes, you know that it’s good for your healthy aging. You know that it’s good for your brain, your memory, your cognition and your sleep. That doesn’t make it easy to change into that workout gear. Some days you just don’t care about your resilience and how much exercise will help you through anything. You just feel like taking a nap. So here are 3 methods to maintain your momentum.

1st method to maintain your momentum:

Know that it’s OK to play hooky once in a while. If you just can’t face that treadmill or put that exercise bra on, it’s OK not to.

Just the fact that you know it’s all right to skip a day will, most likely, get you up off the couch. Ask yourself the question: do I want to play my hooky card today? Or should I save it for when I REALLY don’t feel like working out? 

2nd method:

Remember your kids, or your dogs, or your friends. They’re waiting for you. Remember why you started exercising in the first place. You want to run around with the kids and grandkids. Take fun vacations with them. You want to play with the dogs – get down on the floor to play and still be able to get back up again. And you want to roam all over the mall with your friends without having to take breaks.

3rd method:

Know that you’re going to be very sore if you take days off.That’s not fun. 

As we age, the recovery time for our muscles extends because our muscle tissue takes longer to repair itself and rebuild. It’s just easier to do the workout. And, face it – with the time you spend arguing with yourself whether or not to workout you could be almost finished with today’s workout. 

So, get off the couch.

5 reasons to do planks

Renegade row - one of the killer moves in Saturday's workout
One plank variation

Planks have gone in and out of favor in the fitness community for years. But there’s a definite place for planks in everyone’s exercise regime. You know I always advocate a strong core. So we’ll take it as a given that the prime reason to do planks is to strengthen your core. Here are more reasons to do planks.

Reason to do planks #1 – simplicity

Planks are simple. Anyone and everyone can do some version of a plank. If you’ve been doing them for a while, the standard plank on your hands and toes is your go-to exercise. But for beginners, I’d recommend starting using a coffee table. Put your hands flat on the edge of the table, walk your feet back until you’re in a straight line from your heels to your head. Core pulled in tight, back straight – don’t arch your back or bow it. And hold there for 15 seconds to a minute. As you feel stronger, go down to the floor. You can start on your knees and hands first, but you’ll want to progress quickly to an elbow plank. On your toes and your forearms – keep that straight line from your heels to your head.

Reason #2 – core stability

Planks not only strengthen your core, but they’ll give your core stability. Core stability is what keeps us upright as we go through the day, transfers energy from our upper to our lower body and protects our spine. It’s also what gives us good balance – which, as I’ve emphasized before, nature takes away as we age. I hold a plank a few times a week for my healthy aging – and perhaps you should, too!

Reason #3 – entire body workout

Planks work our entire body, not just the core. If you’re doing a plank correctly, you’ll feel it in your legs and shoulders. Your glutes get a good workout, and your arms are holding you up, so they’re getting stronger too.

Reason #4 – builds muscle endurance

Planks are isometric. Planks are static exercises – we hold the position for at least 15 seconds up to a full minute. So holding the position is building not just strength, but the endurance of the muscles. We sit at our computers all day, so we need that endurance to hold us upright.

Reason #5 – practically endless variations

The variations of planks are practically endless, so we’re never bored with our planks.One way to make a regular plank more dynamic is to alternate shoulder taps – but keep your hips level. Another of my favorite plank variation is the side plank – lift your leg to make a star!

With all these reasons to do planks, perhaps you should add it to your exercise regimen.

True happiness may not be what you think

When you think of being “happy,” what comes to mind? Is it smiling ear-to-ear? Or a big belly laugh? That expression of happiness, though, is not really sustainable. It’s impossible to have mind-blowing joy every minute. We need to sleep sometimes, right? And at this stage of life, happiness should be sustainable and not exhausting. To me, happiness is contentment raised up a notch or two.

true happiness

True happiness is the feeling you get when all is right in your world. When you see beauty and can actually pause and reflect on it for a moment. Knowing that you can share that moment with family and friends and they’ll understand your happiness in the beauty you see. My vision of happiness also revolves around the idea of positivity going forward. Thinking of being happy not just now but in the future. Our resilience grows from that idea of true happiness.

Lots of moments of joy

These days, moments of joy occur when my dogs “get it!” When the dogs seem to have light bulbs above their heads. If Simon sits and actually stays until I tell him it’s okay to move. That’s a huge moment of joy for me. I know that my training is paying off and if I enter a competition, then we’ll have a prayer of succeeding. Lesser moments of joy occur in just sitting with my dogs, though. I don’t need outside validation to be happy with them. But it’s not just my dogs that make me deep-down happy – seeing the deep purple crocus poke their heads out of the soil fills my soul. I choose happiness every day.

Happiness may have a goal orientation

I’m looking to the future in happiness. I’m preparing to be happy then, too. My goals are part of the foundation for future happiness. As writer Christopher Boyce puts it, “have goals but be prepared to let them go.” Think about your future self – how you want to live, what you want to do. Make goals to achieve that life. And, of course, set your intermediate goals to get you there. But if you’re not happy when you’re working toward those goals, set new ones. Life is a journey. If we’re not happy at any point for sustained periods, we need to change course. 

True Happiness May Take a While

Years ago, my sister and I owned an RV, stored in Marathon, Florida. We would take separate vacations there, driving down from our home near Chicago with our dogs. It’s a 24-hour drive, so we each took 3 days to get there – essential with dogs. No, the drive was not fun. It was sometimes nerve-wracking, but the end result was worth it. So, sometimes thinking ahead a little bit makes the unhappy part insignificant. We overcome obstacles to get to that happy future. And part of that future is being as fit and healthy as possible to enjoy it.

Tears Along the Way

Happiness is multi-faceted. There’s bad mixed in with mostly good. There may be tears along the way, but an overall happy life can sustain setbacks, grief and sadness. When you’re content at the end of most days – isn’t that happiness?