The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time full of peace and good will. But, life is full of its ups and downs, regardless of the time of year. Normal demands of day-to-day living, as well as stress from the unexpected, don't wait for the season to pass, and can have a profound affect on your mood. If you are feeling a little bit like Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
these days, you don't need visits from ghosts to alter your state of mind, just a little exercise.
A study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting last Spring in Seattle, Washington, found that participation in moderate-intensity exercise not only provides an immediate boost to your mood state, but that this positive frame of mind can last up to 12 hours post-exercise. This investigation from the University of Vermont, Burlington studied 48 healthy men and women whose ages ranged from 18-25 years. Participants were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a non-exercise group.
At the start of the study, all participants completed a standard questionnaire of mood, the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Those subjects who were in the exercise group pedaled on a stationary bike for 20 minutes at a workload that was 60% of their maximal effort. Subjects from both groups then completed the POMS again 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, & 24 hours later. Those individuals in the exercise group showed immediate improvements in mood state, with this enhancement lasting up to 12 hours post-exercise. No differences in positive affect were noted between genders or fitness levels.
What does this mean for you? If you need to mitigate the demands of the holidays, or stress from life in general, get active for at least 20 minutes. Remember, just 20 minutes can give you a mental boost that lasts longer than the average work day. To make the most of this positive frame of mind, exercise in the morning, when you can reap the benefits while you are awake during the day.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.
Supplement to Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2009, Volume 41, Number 5, Section 1520, Board # 122 "Mood Enhancement Persists for up to 12 Hours Following Aerobic Exercise," Sibold, J.S. and Berg, K.