I am always on the lookout for studies that suggest I am living my life in above-average ways, so I am thrilled to announce that a recent systematic review of existing research linking exercise and mood has again deemed me superior, or at least average. In their analysis, researchers found that many studies supported the idea that a mere ten minutes’ worth of exercise is sufficient to boost one’s mood — and, perhaps even better news, they found little evidence to support the mood-improving benefits of exercise beyond the 30-minute mark.
Before I started weightlifting, my main form of workout was either a 20-minute jog, or a Jillian Michaels workout DVD, which are — you guessed it — 30 minutes long. Here I’ll offer a caveat, which is that the mood benefits of the latter were sometimes a little mixed, depending on how you feel about being yelled at by Jillian Michaels. (I felt pretty good about it, most of the time.) Obviously, a workout will cheer you up more easily if you feel good doing it.
The researchers, too, acknowledge that your workout’s mood benefits are also dependent on workout intensity and type. Moderate intensity was found, on the whole, to be more beneficial than easy or difficult, and anaerobic exercise (such as heavy weightlifting or sprinting) is better for stress and anxiety than aerobic exercise (like jogging or cycling), though the researchers speculate that might be due to the more readily visible results of anaerobic exercise. But again, that depends on one’s motivation for exercise.
Everything is very interrelated, and you could be forgiven for thinking these results have little to do with you — most of the studies analyzed were done in labs, on very diverse volunteers, and measured intensity in different ways. Still, the conclusions about workout duration are logical, and comforting. Most people know when they hit that sweet endorphin high point, and which forms of exercise make them happiest. The key is to regularly do something active, ideally something you don’t hate, for at least ten minutes. You can totally stop at 30 minutes if you want to. Jillian Michaels and this review of existing exercise research will support you.