How to Choose the Right Workout Based on Your Mood—Whether You're Sad, Tense, or Low on Energy

·5 min read

Whether due to hormones or external factors, the experience of feeling totally unproductive one day and on the ball the next is common among most people. While it's worth talking to your doctor about any extreme mood fluctuations that are difficult to manage and process, mood hills and valleys are a typical part of life—and we all just have to learn to ride our own waves. But did you know you can actually improve or capitalize on how you're feeling in the moment with exercise? The key is to be able to choose a fitness routine—from boxing to yoga—that either improves your symptoms or uses them to your physical and mental advantage.

As a fitness instructor and co-founder of the CHI-SOCIETY, Erin Schirack explains that the endorphins released in the body while working out can increase energy, heighten mood, and create overall feelings of relaxation. "Exercise is so important for mental health as it reduces anxiety, depression, and negative moods but can also help boost your self-esteem, leaving you feeling amazing—even after just a short workout," she says. And on the other end of the spectrum, not getting enough exercise—or being too sedentary—can wreak havoc on your mind and mood. All the more reason to choose movement over stagnation whenever possible.

Regardless of whether you're having an off-day or on-day, use these recommendations from fitness professionals to find the best workout for whatever mood you're grappling with, whether it's exhaustion, anxiety, frustration, or something in between.

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best-exercise-to-improve-mood: weights and yoga mat
best-exercise-to-improve-mood: weights and yoga mat

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The best type of workout for when you lack energy or productivity.

No matter how long you stare at your computer screen, you can't find the motivation to dial into your work—even easy tasks are difficult to accomplish since your energy and productivity are so low. On days like this, Meghan Trainor, personal trainer, motivational fitness coach, and founder of Body By Trainor, says it's an ideal time to crush a multi-compound exercise (moves that target multiple muscle groups at once) and trick your mind into turning up the beat. This includes multi-functional, strength-training movies like a clean-to-press for weight-lifters, burpees, single-arm renegade rows, and so on. "Add as much spice and pizazz to reset your mind into feeling productive and accomplished," she continues. "You can always modify for your fitness level, but make it challenging and surprise yourself with how well you do."

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The best type of workout for when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Maybe it's your to-do list at work or possibly your social calendar—or a combination of both—but sometimes you feel like you've bitten more than you can chew. When this happens, it produces feelings of intense stress and anxiety. To combat these uncomfortable emotions, take a break from intense cardio and instead practice deep breathing and slow, controlled yoga moves, suggests Keith Hodges, a certified personal trainer and the founder of Mind In Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles.

Breathwork on its own—or types of exercise that incorporate breathwork, like yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, or stretching—can literally help to calm your nervous system, which might be working in overdrive due to external stressors and feelings of overwhelm. "When feeling overwhelmed, our heart rate elevates and can lead to a panic attack for some individuals," he explains. "I recommend breathing exercises during this time."

Best of all, you can do it just about anywhere:

  1. Sit or stand with proper posture. Inhale through your nose for at least three seconds while filling the abdomen with air.

  2. Hold your breath for three seconds, then exhale gently and slowly from your mouth.

  3. Repeat this breathing exercise until you feel calm and ready to move forward with your day.

  4. Take it a step further: Move through a slow yoga sequence while you inhale and exhale.

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The best type of workout for sad days.

Whatever's causing the rain cloud above your head is hard to break through. Processing your negative emotions is essential, but so is putting your mind in a better headspace—and movement is one way to help do that. Hodges says to challenge yourself to do something active that brings you joy. Maybe it's playing basketball or tennis; for others, this means going for a long walk at sunset. For Hodges, it's running: "Running [for me brings] a feeling of complete relaxation due to the endocannabinoids [molecules similar to cannabinoids produced naturally in the body] and endorphins released from aerobic exercise."

If you're not a runner, he recommends speed walking, cycling, or hiking for at least 30 minutes. Or again, anything that will make you feel more like yourself.

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The best type of workout when you're feeling great.

Hodges says during a good mood is the best time to challenge yourself with a workout. "You're already in great spirits, so use this time to capitalize on it," he says. This may mean experimenting with a different type of fitness routine or class you've never tried before.

It could mean taking your go-to exercise to the next level. As Hodges recommends, if you're a weightlifter, do a few more reps or add an extra set or two. If you're a runner, run faster, run farther, or both. "The feeling of happiness and excitement combined with the endorphins released from a workout will only be magnified," he adds. "Think about it like building compound interest on a good mood."

The best type of workout for relaxation.

When you're sleepy or just need to do something relaxing, Schirack suggests Pilates. Not only do you get to lie down during some of the moves in the class, but this is the type of class that, while not easy, requires intense focus and using the breath to target stabilizer muscles. "This will allow your brain to become distracted by the feeling of tiredness and focus on the movement and task at hand," she says. "The moves and class have a wonderful flow that allows your body and increases blood flow more gently."

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