Exercise is a virtually guaranteed mood boost for the day. Editor Anna Magee, who actually does – honestly – get up and exercise at 6am, talks to the experts
Tell yourself it only takes ten minutes
You’re probably familiar with the term ‘Runner’s High’, the feeling of increased wellbeing that people who plod the pavement regularly get extremely evangelical about. But if you assumed it took hours of tedious jogging to get that famed high, new research suggests you would be wrong.
In fact, according to the study just ten minutes – ten little minutes – of exercise a day can deliver that famed high, as long as it’s high intensity cardio such as as cycling, running or swimming.
The research by YouGov, commissioned by online sports retailer Wiggle.co.uk, surveyed 2000 British adults about the transition between motivating yourself to exercise and enjoying it while you do. They found that the average time for those who exercise three times a week or more was just nine minutes, 44 seconds.
So those excuses about not having enough time? They no longer wash – more on that later.
New research suggests that the average time it takes to feel good from exercise was just nine minutes, 44 seconds
Ask yourself what kind of a day you want to have
Ask anyone who exercises regularly and they will tell you this – it’s not the body effects of exercise that keep them coming back day after day or get them out of bed to exercise each morning.
It’s how exercise makes them feel.
Done at the beginning of a day, exercise is one way to fortify yourself against the mood-dampening effects of nasty emails, bad-tempered bosses and other niggling nightmares the day might bring. It simply makes you feel better for longer. And it’s the best drug-free way to guarantee yourself a better mood.
‘Even a short burst of intense skipping, aerobics or dancing in your bedroom for 5-10 minutes in the morning is going to make you feel better and give you a better mindset for the rest of the day,’ says leading sports psychologist Michael Caulfield, who has coined this effect ‘youphoria’.
For years, scientists have associated this phenomenon with increased levels of β-endorphins in the blood, opioid peptides thought to elevate mood.
But according to Caulfield, there’s more at work. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain that is released when we get rewards. It’s the same pathway that lights up when people eat sugar, drink alcohol or snort cocaine. Well, exercise gives you the same thing but without the fat, hangover or horrendous comedown. And like the addictive stuff, exercise is habit-forming too (good news, it takes just 14 days or exercising to form that habit).
‘Dopamine is released in the brain when something happens to make us feel good, such as falling in love,’ says Caulfield. ‘In not so good-for-you terms, that means making money, addictions and so on. That same rush comes from exercise too.’ Plus, unlike cocaine or gin, with exercise there’s no come down.
Figure out the moves that work and do them
So what moves can get you this euphoric feeling and how long do they take?
According to the Wiggle research, runners took just eight minutes and 28 seconds to get their exercise high, while those who walked/hiked took ten minutes 35 seconds and exercise classes delivered it nine minutes and seven seconds. Gym goers got their high the fastest, in just six minutes, 36 seconds.
If that doesn’t get you out of bed nothing will.
As a general rule of thumb, Caulfield says if you want the high faster, you need to exercise at a higher intensity. ‘Kick boxing, sprinting, skipping or fast-paced dancing and aerobics will get you there quickly because of the effect they have on the blood circulation and the heart which then send signals to the brain to release the feel good chemicals. A gentle walk in the park will still make you feel good, but it might take longer.’
Know the science on exercise and the brain
Lacking motivation is the most popular reason not to exercise, according to 33 per cent of the Brits surveyed. One way to combat that is to know the actual scientific effects of exercise on the brain that you simply cannot argue with (or talk yourself out of) whatever the time of day.
If you need proof of the science behind the effects of exercise on the brain, watch a TED talk currently trending by Dr Wendy Suzuki, professor of neuroscience at New York University.
So convinced is Dr Suzuki of the mood and brain-enhancing effects of exercise, that she also became a fitness instructor.
‘Moving your body has immediate, protective and long-lasting effects on your brain,’ says Dr Suzuki. There is an exciting and a growing scientific body of literature that shows the effects of exercise on the brain, Suzuki asserts. ‘Better mood, better energy, better memory, better attention,’ she says.
‘A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline which increases your mood right after and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours,’ says Dr Suzuki.
Short-term exercise will also improve your attention and focus, Suzuki asserts, and over time, doing it regularly will protect your brain against Alzheimer’s and depression. Sign us up.
Set incremental goals
Also known as mini-goals, incremental goals are small, achievable milestones you set on the way to a bigger goal. They’re not only easier to achieve but the sense of accomplishment you get in ticking them off as done gives you yet another hit of that famed dopamine we’ve been talking about, thus increasing your confidence to take on the next incremental goal and the next and so on. See how this works, now?
For example, by all means, set your long-term goal of, say, wanting to lose ten pounds by the time you go on holidays in August.
But then, set incremental goals weekly and even daily so you have something to feel good about before you achieve the weight loss. It’s how all the best athletes get to their goals, smart goal setting.
Your weekly goal might be to do four gym workouts and one outside run. Great. Get your long-term and weekly goals written down in a journal and come back to the journal with any trials or challenges you’re facing and to track your progress.
But then, the real key to success, says Michael Caulfield, is to write down your incremental goals for the next day the night before. Each day, make your tiny goal achievable and specific to that day, he advises.
‘Goal setting is an art that once you learn, can really work for you,’ says Caulfield. ‘In my experience people set themselves massive goals such as running a marathon or losing ten kilos, but their motivation drops quickly when they haven’t achieved it.
‘Tiny, incremental goals give you achievable tasks along the way to a bigger goal and they work to get you to the bigger goal.’
Set incremental goals daily so you have something to feel good about everyday
So what’s the secret to, say, becoming that person that gets up to run/bike/swim/gym at 6am? ‘Well, we know something done for 14 days can quickly become a habit,’ says Caulfield.
‘Write down your goal each evening. Write down everything you need to do to achieve it the next morning. Set alarm, get up, put on trainers, run for 10 minutes. Then, along with the kit you need, put the note by the bed so you’ll see them as soon as you wake up. Once you have written down your incremental goal and done it within the next 24 hours it’s easier to commit to doing it again the next day, and then the next.
‘As human beings, we crave routines, and within 14 days, it’s likely this can become routine for you’.
Separate your excuses from your reasons
Motivated people have reasons for not exercising, but they don’t make excuses. ‘A reason issomething outside of your control. For example, the day before you may have seriously injured yourself, or you have to be at Heathrow to get on a very early flight,’ says Caulfield.
‘But an excuse is something within your control, it’s a choice you’re making not to exercise that isn’t a reason, but something you’re convincing yourself is valid but is really only putting exercise way down your priorities list for the day. For example, “I’m too tired, too busy, I’ll do it tomorrow are all excuses and they’re within your control to change.’ See number seven for how to make exercise into a daily priority.
Find your daily why
Why do you want to get up at 6am to exercise? Just as you need a good reason not to exercise, likewise, you need to dig deep and find out exactly why you want to get up before the sparrows do and exercise.
It’s not enough to just want to lose the weight, a real why is emotional, and it’s immediate which means it will give you benefits, not only in three months or three years, but later that day too.
That’s where Michael Caulfield’s ten minute ‘Youphoria’ effect comes back into it; Dr Wendy Suzuki’s immediate feelgood factor. Call it what you like, it’s going to make you feel better, look better, work better and smile more that day.
It’s not enough to just want to lose the weight, a real why is emotional, and it’s immediate too
‘Especially in the first 14 days, make sure you write down your why the night before you wake up,’ Caulfield advises. The Wiggle research found that for a staggering 78 per cent of Brits, said improved wellbeing and health was their big why.
But your daily why can be simpler, and for best motivation more specific.
How do you want exercise to make you feel that day? What immediate effect do you want it to have on your life? Ask yourself that and you have your daily why.
Then, again write it down – at least for the first 14 days until it becomes a habit.
‘I will get out of bed to exercise tomorrow at 6am because I want to have a better day, I want to be a better boss, a more focused employee, a calmer parent or less stressed business person,’ suggests Caulfield.
‘That helps your goal become one of the most important things in your life because your success in the rest of your life depends on it, not only in the long-term but also later that day,’ he asserts.
So, next time you want to turn over and sleep longer rather than get up and into those runners (you have, of course, put by the bed) remember this – it takes ten little minutes to get your feel good factor from exercise and that better mood can impact your work, relationships and long-term health.
Can ten minutes wrestling the snooze button ever deliver that?