3 Most Effective Mood-Lifting Workouts

It's simple: the more active you are, the happier you'll be.

March 2, 2017
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Adapted from The Lean Belly Prescription

Smiling during your workout may not seem like the most natural thing, but finding the right workout for you may just bring a grin to your face. 

More: A 30-Minute Total-Body Basic Workout to Get Your Heart Pumping 

Consider these three workout hacks to get happy when you're sweating: 

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Trigger nature’s antidepressants

Exercise pumps up not only the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin, but also levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, two other natural happiness helpers. Plus, physical activity makes it easier for tryptophan (a building block of serotonin) to enter the brain, says Daniel Amen, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine.

The workout: You don't need an intense gym session—walking or jogging for 15 minutes at lunchtime will do the trick.

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Heat up so you can chill out

Exercise triggers the white blood cells to release pyrogens, peptides that increase the body's temperature by 1° to 2°F. The result: a soothing, full-body heat wave. "Working out has a calming effect very similar to that of spending time in a sauna or a hot shower, and all three can help relieve anxiety and depression," says Larry Leith, Ph.D., author of Exercising Your Way to Better Mental Health.

The workout: Exercise your large muscle groups by cycling, swimming, or lifting weights for at least 20 minutes. "That's how long it takes to achieve the temperature change," Leith says.

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Interrupt negative thoughts

Working out stops self-destructive mind games; if your workday is a source of your angst, interrupting the flow could be a real help. "Exercise gives a sense of self-mastery, and that's a powerful coping mechanism," says Keith Johnsgard, Ph.D., author of Conquering Depression and Anxiety through Exercise.

The workout: Choose a sport you loved playing as a kid and get back in the game. "If you go back to an activity that made you feel good, it's likely that those neural pathways will be stimulated again," says William Pollack, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a Men's Health advisor.

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