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3 Ways Exercise Reverses a Bad Mood

Bad day? Don’t wrap yourself in a Snuggie and make a date with your DVR and a carton of ice cream just yet. Experts agree that working out—even just for 15 minutes—will boost your mood, keep you calm, and improve your coping skills. Here, why exercise truly is the best mood medicine, and the workouts to try the next time your state of mind goes sour.

Excerpted from The Lean Belly Prescription (Rodale) by Travis Stork, MD, and Peter Moore, editor of Men’s Health.

Next time you need a pick-me-up and can’t work out, try one of these 2-minute mood-boosting tricks.

1. 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, MD, 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.

2. Heat up so you can chill out.

Working out triggers the body’s white blood cells to release pyrogens, proteins that increase the body's temperature by 1° to 2°F. The result: a soothing, full-body heat wave. Sensations of warmth have been shown to increase endorphins in the blood and alter neural circuits in the brain that control mood. "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, PhD, 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," Dr. Leith says.

3. 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, PhD, 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 choose an activity that made you feel good when you were young, it's likely that those neural pathways will be stimulated again," says William Pollack, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a Men's Health advisor.f

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