Hard Workouts Might Boost Your Mood

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I'm one of those people who likes to challenge my body with a tough workout. I'm not one to go until I get sick, but I do like that feeling of accomplishment when I finish a workout I knew would be strenuous. Even though it might be hard to get through and it takes a few minutes to recover, afterward I feel good about what I've done. My husband is always encouraging me to get out and exercise if I've had a rough day because he knows it will improve my mood. New research shows I'm not the only one who gets a mental boost from a tough workout.

The preliminary study, presented at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society, assessed the moods of 11 people before, during, immediately after and 20 minutes after moderate and high-intensity exercise. "The participants' moods were more negative during and immediately after high-intensity exercise, compared to when they did the less strenuous exercise or no exercise. However, their mood 20 minutes after doing the vigorous workout was much better compared to before the workout." This same mood boost did not occur after moderate or no exercise.

When I'm in the middle of a hard workout, I wouldn’t say that I love it. Most people love the feeling of accomplishment exercise provides, not necessarily the exercise itself. I think that's what becomes the most addicting- the feeling you get when you cross the finish line of your first 5k, or the end of a long bike ride that you weren't sure you could complete. Don't get me wrong: I think it's important to find activities you enjoy because you are more likely to stick with them. And it's also important to remember that everyone's definition of a "hard" workout is going to be different. For someone who is new to exercise, 10 minutes of walking might be vigorous activity. For someone who's been active for many years, it might take a 45-minute Spinning class for them to feel like they worked hard. As long as you're challenging yourself based on your current fitness level, that's what is most important.

Learn more about how to Bust Your Bad Mood with Exercise and how to Improve Your Mood Without Food.

What do you think? Do you notice more of a mood boost from a hard workout versus an easier one? Do you try to incorporate both types of workouts into your routine?

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I recommend the book "Spark" by John Ratey (Not from/related to SparkPeople) which explains in detail how exercise improves mood and cognitive ability, including decision making ability, impulse control and motivation. It explains the benefits of different types of exercise- not just high intensity, including the cumulative improvements to mood which are not limited to immediately after. Report
My mood is much better after a workout... Report
I always feel better after exercising - I know I have done something positive for myself - which is always good! Report
I always feel better, after exercise. Report
Definitely a hard work-out is a boost for me. I have done both and I don't feel quite as alive or energetic. I can't say why but it certainly feels better for me when I've completed a work-out where I feel really sore and drained. I just feel like I've left it all in the gym and can appreciate my nightly shower and the sleep that follows. Report
I've known this for 5 decades. Hard exercise is a godsend for folks like me with ADD &/or ADHD. Report
There is nothing like a hard, intense workout to make me feel calm and happy for the rest of the day. It evens out my mood and makes me feel like nothing can shake me. I do tend to work out until I feel sick and so shaky I can barely stand up, but after recovering I feel like I want to do it all over again! Report
For my workout, I combine brisk walking with running. I find alternating the two very good for my workout and I definitely notice an improvement in my mood when I'm done. I've noticed that if I don't workout my mood is very anxious and depressed, so exercise is a definite must for me. Report
I have an anxiety disorder, and ever since I stepped up the intensity of my workouts I've been able to manage my anxiety w/o meds. There's nothing like a good huffin'-and-puffin', sweaty workout to get all the stress hormones out of my system! Report
Pushing myself on a bad day through a tough workout always brightens my day. I feel like I am literally able to sweat some of the stress, complications, and drama of the day out. I never regret a work out but I often wish I had done when I hadn't. Report
totally agree with siobhanknits .......That's why I run for the mental therapy! Report
I always feel great when I push myself. It's the idea that I have accomplished a small goal and it gets out any agression I may have built up. Grrrrr! Report
I definitely agree with you that during the hard workout, I'm not exactly enjoying it, but afterwards? Wow. I love feeling that sense of accomplishment, and I appreciate how my body was able to complete the exercise. I love feeling fit! Report
I find this to be so true. I have read, and experienced first hand, the benefits of stress relief and strenuous exercise. I really found this to be true when I took a kickboxing class on the day my father died. It was an early morning class and I had taken it before, just not from this particular instructor. She was crazy hard, a Jillian Michaels wanna be! My father was terminally ill and we knew the end was near. It was the best workout of my life and helped clear my head for what I would need later in the day. Report
I typically feel better after completing my workload, a sense of satisfaction and also removal from the stress situation. Report
Interesting. Report
The times when I've noticed the greatest benefits to my mood have been after high intensity workouts. For me, it's not necessarily related to what I know intellectually about how hard I've worked or the accomplishment. There is definitely more physiological involved.

Thanks for the study info! :)
Jocelyn Report
I took the time this morning to get up early and get a workout done before starting work. AMAZING feeling. I was on a high the rest of the day. Report
I DEFINITELY notice a mood boost after a good "hard" workout! In fact my husband also noticed this trait and if I'm having an off day or am feeling really irritable, I tell him "I'll be back, I need to go work 'this' out!" He knows that is code for "see you in 30 minutes after my _____ (insert favorite activity of the moment here)." Glad to know that others are gaining mental as well as physical fitness too! :-D Report
I'm not sure what I'm addicted to (the during or the after affect)...all I know is that I am truly addicted. If I miss a day of my Crossfit I feel sad and I know something is missing. Report
I feel accomplished and like I did a job well when I work out. I just wish the hard work would pay off a little faster. But 1 lb at a time! Report
I love the feeling I get from working out. But I don't think I do enough on a given day. I guess I have to join an exercing class to do a variety exercises to accomplish my goals. Report
I sometimes resent having to get out there, but when done my mood improves 10 fold and I can say to myself this is what it is all about.. I am doing what 95% of women my age refuse to do.. The spin off is I feel less pain than if I stood still and lived a conservative life.. Report
The last couple of years have been really rough, as I've been unemployed since early 2010. Working out regularly has been one of the few things that kept me going. I still need help coping - getting ready to start meds - but I'd be much worse without SP and working out. Report
It's not just the feeling of accomplishment--endorphins are released in our brains! Report
I guess I don't ever do a really intense workout. Compared to what I was doing a year ago, I've got more stamina though. I feel really great after exercising ... maybe I'll get to intense some day.

PS: Your husband is a wise man. Report
I definitely feel better after a hard workout. I like knowing that I've pushed myself and my body can do it. It's a wonderful thing. :) Report
I feel fantastic after a hard workout. I used to stop when it got tough or I started breathing hard because I have high BP ( under control with meds ) . I started doing a full 30 min. of strength training & cardio every other day. I cannot tell you the satisfaction I feel knowing I did it even though it was hard hard work. I also love the feeling of sweat & gentle fatigue I feel, untill I shower & start my day.. I can honestly say I love to work out...once I talk myself into doing it!! Report
I have chronic depression and I absolutely need regular, intense exercise to help manage my mood. A stroll around the the park just doesn't do it for me. I find the feeling of hard workouts exhilarating and always struggle to push myself. It gives me a sense of self-efficacy and control over my environment. Report
Funny because I just blogged about how a tough cardio workout helps my stress level-it's making time for the cardio that is the tough part, but how true for the afterglow! Report
I definitely feel more energized and in a better mood when I have worked out then on days that I don't. Report
This is an absolute truth that I have recently discovered. I had never really done intense exercise before a month or so ago.

I have found that it has so many mental/emotional benefits. I feel accomplished when I have worked hard. But mostly I find it relieves stress better than emotional eating ever did. I get to the gym with my head buzzing with all kinds of worries, but by the time I am leaving its all gone and I am relaxed.

Also, I enjoy the hard work while I am doing it. I like the feel of my body working hard and enjoy the satisfaction of what I am achieving as I am doing it. Often I put the voice of my very nice, encouraging PT in my head to help keep my enthusiasm up. Report
I can totally identify with this. I love the physical, mental, & emotional boosts I get from intense exercising. Report
I love how my body feels after a hard workout. It is hard to describe but it does feel different when I get done a really hard workout compared to a moderate workout. Report