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Be A Happier, Fitter You

Trade cranky days for fit ones with these five mood-boosting techniques.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


Mood Booster #1: Take It Outside

We know that exercise is great for mood, but according to a study from the University of Essex in the UK, “green” exercise — or getting your body moving outdoors – can boost that benefit. Researchers looked across the board at studies where subjects exercised in nature, and found that just five minutes of green exercise significantly boosted both self-esteem and mood. Green exercise near water made the effect even stronger.

Try This: Put together a fun backyard circuit, combining strength and cardio, Schurman says.

  • 2 minutes of a warm-up
  • Jogging with high knees (palms slapping knees), walking forward briskly with windmill arms (forward and back) and walking backward
  • 2 minutes of cardio
  • Walking lunges, bear walks (walking on all fours), crab crawl (all fours, but facing upward), skipping and forward jumps
  • 2 minutes of strength training
  • Plank holds, side planks, triceps dips on a step, squat jumps

Mood Booster #2: Meditate

Taking time to simply be quiet, focusing on breathing and distancing yourself from cluttered thoughts, not only helps you relax, but it can also put you in a better mood, found a recent University of Oregon study. Undergraduates were led through a practice called integrative body-mind training (IBMT). They listened to a guided imagery CD and were given cues about breathing. “IBMT is a form of mindful meditation; it’s a pleasant, relaxed state of keeping the mind from wandering,” says study author Michael Posner, PhD, psychology professor at University of Oregon. After just five days, the IBMT group had better concentration and better moods.

Try This: Aim for five to 10 minutes every day, and increase to 20 minutes if time allows. Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a place you enjoy, whether it’s outside on a bench or a comfortable chair in your living room. Turn off the TV, radio, computer and other distractions.
  • Close your eyes gently (they should be rested shut, not squeezed) and begin to notice your pattern of breathing and how your breath flows in and out.
  • Notice the thoughts that creep into your brain; see them as if they were written on a chalkboard, and you’re standing at a distance from them.

Mood Booster #3: Get Your Yoga On

Getting happier could be as easy as rolling out your yoga mat, suggest the results of a new study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Compared to a group who took part in a walking program, people who practiced yoga three times per week had less stress and a better mood, says study author Chris Streeter, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University Medical Center. Streeter found that “there was an increase in GABA (a brain chemical that helps people regulate mood) levels in the yoga group, but not the walking group.”

Try This: Start your morning with this yoga routine by Liz Owen, a yoga teacher in Arlington, Massachusetts, who headed the team that designed the yoga poses and sequence for the study.

  1. Tree pose
  2. Triangle pose
  3. Standing forward fold
  4. Downward dog
  5. Bridge pose
  6. Happy baby
  7. Deep relaxation

Mood Booster #4: Let Out Your Anger

While dropping F-bombs may not be the most constructive way to deal with a friend who tends to cancel plans at the last minute, holding in your anger can be detrimental to your mood, found a new University of Michigan study. “We found that having an argument made people feel bad that day, but avoiding it made them feel bad the next day,” says study author Kira S. Birditt, PhD, assistant research professor at the University of Michigan. Sidestepping arguments was associated with increased physical symptoms the next day, such as headaches and stomachaches — definite mood spoilers — and made subjects’ cortisol levels rise the day after they avoided the conflict.

Try This: Have a beef with someone? Don’t sleep on it. Use constructive, respectful strategies (like listening to the other person and arguing “fairly”) to talk it out:

  • Stick to the present: don’t bring up things from a long time ago.
  • Be respectful: don’t bully or be insulting.
  • Think first: stop and think before talking, especially if you are upset.
  • Use “I” statements: say “I feel this way,” instead of “you are making me feel this way” or “you always do this.”

Tip: Can’t tell if you’re too snappy when you get angry? Ask your pals! They’ll be able to give you an honest opinion on what you need to change.

Mood Booster #5: Sleep Yourself Happy

“It’s hard to be in good spirits and a good mood when you’re tired,” says Melvin McGinnis, MD, professor of bipolar disorder and depression at University of Michigan Medical Center.

“Sleep provides rest and a resetting of brain functioning,” he says, plus, getting your ZZZs could also keep you energized instead of cranky and tired. Most people need at least seven hours of sleep to go through enough REM and non-REM cycles to help the brain reset.

Try This: Create a sleep routine and stick to it, McGinnis says. Follow these tips for designing your routine:

  • Schedule vigorous exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t linger in bed. You want your bed (and your bedroom) to be a cue for sleep.
  • Don’t work or read in bed.
  • Keep the room cool. Block out as much light as possible and add a soothing background sound (like rolling waves) if it’s too noisy.