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!

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.

No. It depends. A while. Answers to goal-specific fitness questions.

When will I see Exercise Results?

When do you see exercise results? It depends... And everyone is different.

“I have a wedding in June. Will I be skinny by then?” “How long ‘til I fit into Size 6 jeans?” “When will I see a six-pack?” Were you laughing when you read those questions? Me too. And yet, deep down, I kind of wondered when I’d see exercise results all those years ago when I lost weight. By now, you know that “No,” “It depends,” and “A while” are the answers. It turns out that “It depends” is the answer to quite a few goal-specific fitness questions. 

Goals are key

Having specific goals, committing to a program and sticking with that program is the sure path to success in reaching a fitness goal. For example, if you want to lose 5 pounds in a month, experts agree that it’s totally doable. Reduce the number of calories you consume (a food journal helps with this), increase calories burned (an exercise program will help here), make sure you’re hydrated, get enough sleep, and reduce stress. That’s the formula. Of course, it’s never so cut and dry. 

Our emotions get in the way. We eat because of stress. And we eat when we’re happy. When it comes to exercise – there’s never a good time to do it. Or we just don’t feel like it. So, having real, achievable, specific goals is the key to keeping on track.

Everyone’s different

We’re human. And as humans, our bodies react differently to the food we eat and exercises we do. Exercise results are different for everybody. My body reacts differently than yours. Your body may not retain water the way mine does – be grateful. Or your muscles may respond more quickly to exercise than mine. Everyone’s different. So – it depends when you’ll see those results you want.

A real time frame … wait for it

But, there is sort of a time frame on when you can expect to see some results from your hard work. “When performed appropriately, exercise can lead to physiological changes in about eight to 12 weeks for most people,” Chris Gagliardi, MS (an ACE-certified personal trainer) says. “This does not mean that everyone will respond to exercise in the same way. Some people may see and feel results in less than eight to 12 weeks, and for others, it may take more time.” 

Don’t exercise for the outward results

It’s such a long time to see any results, that it’s important not to focus on these physiological changes. Remember all the other benefits that come from exercise. Remember that even Khloe Kardashian exercises for the invisible benefits! If I have to wait 2 to 3 months to see any results, there had better be other benefits to this whole healthy living thing! 

The biggest reason for me to exercise is the brain boost I get, and how much better I feel emotionally afterward.

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.

The good stress

When I think of “stress,” my brain starts whirring, my heart starts pounding, I start to sweat, and I’m not happy. Most people, I think, react the same way to most stress. In fact, the World Health Organization defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain.” And when this type of stress continues, it can become “distress” which leads to anxiety and overwhelm. But there is a “good” stress – called “eustress.” 

Stress can be beneficial

Eustress can be a beneficial emotion, leading to “positive emotional arousal, leading to activation and engagement” with the world around us, according to a paper in the National Library of Medicine. 

Exercise is stressful, but "good" stress.
Exercise is “good” stress

So, eustress is “manageable, acute, and short-term.” Think of exercise as an example. We’re placing stress on our bodies when we exercise. But exercise by definition is short-term, and the stress we put our bodies in is acute – we voluntarily raise our heart rates or work our muscles in a way that’s different from their normal state. And the reason that we exercise is to become more fit, release endorphins and improve our mental well-being.

Nurtures our well-being

“Eustress is the physical, mental, and/or emotional tension that is placed on the mind and body when we engage in activities that actually nurture our well-being and foster growth,” says Andra Brown, a NY-based licensed mental health counselor who specializes in anxiety, racial identity, and stress. Brown says that eustress can make us excited and motivated. When we feel eustress, we feel compelled to act in a positive manner. Our mindset improves when we’re under eustress. And when we act positively, our resilience grows.

If I get an idea for an article, and I know it’s a good one, I’m fired up. I open a new Google Document and write rapid-fire until that idea is down in black and white. 

Stress and exercise

I’m not excited to exercise, as you know. But, once I push “Play,” the music comes on and the instructor gives the first direction, I start moving and can forget about everything else. Good stress indeed!

Public speaking can even be eustressful

Brown emphasizes that eustress triggers can increase productivity. Think about the last time you spoke in front of a small group of friends about a subject you’re passionate about. Even though public speaking may usually terrify you, when it’s about a topic that’s near and dear to your heart, you probably spoke eloquently and far more succinctly than you believed you could.

As you’ve seen in previous articles, exercise generates energy. Even if I’m tired before a workout, I feel energized afterward! Exercise, therefore, is positive stress. It feeds our body and mind.

I try to combine distress and eustress

Listening to the news, on the other hand, is “distress.” It brings on feelings of anxiety and is practically debilitating. I do like to know what’s going on in the world, though, so I pair watching the national news every day with a calming Sudoku puzzle. On one hand, I’m anxious, but on the other, I’m solving a puzzle. I’m hoping that the eustress outweighs the distress. Indeed, Brown says that during moments of eustress, we are able to perceive certain challenges as less threatening.

So, there’s no need to fear stress – just do everything you can to make it good stress.

Invisible benefits of exercise

I agree with Khloe Kardashian

I’m not a Kardashian fan. I don’t follow any of them. But I read an article about how Khloe Kardashian loves the invisible benefits of exercise, and I have to agree with her. Kardashian turns to exercise for the “mental release” it gives her. Exercise gives her power over her life – it’s one thing she can actually control. And it’s true – you decide what kind of exercise you want to do. You decide when to do it. How hard to exercise, and how long your session should be. I choose to exercise at an intense level. I get the most out of the 30 minutes I’m willing to spend on exercise.

It’s not about the scale

It’s not about losing weight – Kardashian says she hasn’t stepped on a scale in ages. Because a scale is just numbers. If you’re happy with how you feel, how your clothes fit, and you’re healthy, then your weight shouldn’t matter so much. 

Exercise for confidence

An intense workout makes me happier.
An intense workout leaves me happier in a short amount of time

Kardashian also extols the confidence that exercise gives her. We’re powerful when we improve our heart, our muscles and our bones. Exercise not only improves our physical health, but our mental health too. The mental release is one of the invisible benefits Khloe Kardashian finds in exercise. I’ve often written that when I’m in a bad mood, my sister won’t talk to me until after my workout. I’m in a much better mood then. The endorphins released during an intense workout make me happier and makes everyone less depressed. After a good workout, we’re much more able to face any difficulties with the confidence boost we get.

Improve your mindset with exercise

Exercise is good for your mindset too. That’s another invisible benefit of exercise. Kardashian admits to previously having unrealistic goals, like cutting out all sugar or working out five days a week. But now, with her consistent fitness practice, Kardashian is all about seeing exercise as a tool for wellness. And that’s a very healthy outlook. I don’t exercise because I want to fit into Size 2 jeans. That’s never going to happen. I exercise because I want to remain strong and independent, and do the things I want to do. Exercise is part of my healthy aging routine.