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6 Mood-Boosting Benefits of Exercise

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How do you usually feel when leaving the gym after breaking a sweat? Anyone who's hit that runner's high or walked out of a yoga studio smiling knows that exercise affects your mood, generally by giving it a major boost. That benefit isn't all in your head: Several recent studies have looked at the impact of various workouts at all levels of intensity and how they can give you an emotional lift that might help you conquer specific scenarios throughout your day. Here are six ways a great workout boosts your mental health.

1. EXERCISE HELPS YOU DEAL WITH STRESS DURING YOUR WORKDAY...

Walking for 30 minutes at midday led people to feel more enthusiastic about their work responsibilities in the hours that followed their stroll, a 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found. Study participants also felt better equipped to combat any tensions or tough jobs that arose after their half-hour of moving. On days when you have meetings all afternoon or a big project to wrap up in the p.m., skip a long lunch with coworkers and do laps around the block instead.

2. … AND HELPS YOU LEAVE THAT STRESS AT THE OFFICE.

Find it hard to put tensions from a conference call or upcoming presentation out of your mind when you head home every evening? Getting your blood pumping is a great way to stop the stressed-out cycle, according to new research: Swimming for an hour or getting 90 minutes of walking in a day reduces your chances of bringing work stress home with you and makes you less likely to take out your frustrations on loved ones, found a new study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

3. EXERCISE COMBATS DEPRESSION.

Doing something active for 30 minutes significantly improved the mood of depressed women in a 2016 study published in Behavior Therapy. And good news: You don’t have to go hard to reap the reward and feel better. Light-, moderate-, and high-intensity exercise all led to an antidepressant effect.

4. IT BUMPS UP YOUR ENERGY.

Walking at a moderate pace for a mere five minutes once an hour, during a typical workday in an office setting, led people to feel happier, less tired, more energetic, and less hungry in a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

5. IT HELPS YOU STOP SNACKING WHEN YOU'RE SAD.

If you’re trying to drop some pounds, exercising more could help—but not for the reason you might think. It’s not all about the calories you burn, but about your mood improving, too, according to a 2011 study from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Study participants shed weight and shrank their waist circumferences, but most of the change was not because they had a caloric deficit; rather, their boosted mood helped them feel empowered and better able to resist emotional eating.

6. IT UPS YOUR SENSE OF SATISFACTION.

Can’t squeeze in an hour-long walk in the morning or that 45-minute bootcamp class? No problem: Breaking up your exercise into smaller chunks over the course of the day might be even better. Moving often throughout the day makes you happier immediately but also in the long-term, according to a recent study. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England looked at data from more than 10,000 men and women and determined that frequent activity caused people to feel more satisfied with their lives. Low-intensity exercise like cycling or going for a stroll is all that’s necessary to feel the boost.

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Smart Shopping
11 Savvy Gifts for the Runner in Your Life
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Sneakers and a willingness to sweat are the basics of what a runner needs to get going, but these gifts go the extra mile, helping your favorite 10K devotée or aspiring marathoner stay moving whatever the distance, weather, or terrain.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. YAKTRAX RUN TRACTION CLEATS FOR RUNNING ON SNOW AND ICE; $32

yaktrax traction cleats for snow and ice
Amazon

Snow and ice won't slow down runners when they wear Yaktrax cleats, which can be secured to running shoes to prevent slippage. Replaceable carbide-steel spikes and stainless-steel coils provide great traction, while reflective stripes on the sides and heels make night runs safer.

Find It: Amazon

2. GARMIN RUNNING DYNAMICS POD TRACKER; $69

garmin running dynamic tracker pod
Amazon

Way beyond a basic pedometer, this tracker pod links to a compatible watch and sends real-time information about six running metrics: cadence, stride length, ground contact time and balance, vertical oscillation, and vertical ratio. It clips onto a watch wristband and weighs less than 5 ounces, so your giftee will barely notice it's there.

Find It: Amazon

3. RUNTASTY HYDRATION BELT; $30

hydration runner's belt with phone pocket
Amazon

This hydration belt holds two BPA-free water bottles (17 ounces total) to keep a runner going through a longer distance. Slip your phone into one large pocket with a touchscreen for easy control. Keys, cards, and everything else fit in the roomy other pocket. They're both sweatproof to keep your electronics safe. Anti-slip texturing keeps it from sliding around, and it's adjustable to fit a wide variety of bodies.

Find It: Amazon

4. JULBO AEROLITE SUNGLASSES; $143

julbo sunglasses
Amazon

Ultrarunners and mountain bikers helped design these high-tech polycarbonate sunglasses. They're super lightweight, rimless, and provide 100 percent protection against UV A, B, and C rays. Air circulates easily through them, so they won't fog up.

Find It: Amazon

5. RUN INK MARATHONER MAPS; $13 AND UP

colorful map of brooklyn marathon from run ink
Run Ink

These personalized printed maps are perfect for marathoners who have all the gear they need, but could use a well-designed memento of their endurance, tenacity, and spirit. Each colorful map shows the location, course, date, and name of a specific race, along with the runner's name, time, and bib number. Not a marathoner? Run Ink customizes maps for any race. They'll frame it too.

Find It: Run Ink

6. GRAND TRAIL: A MAGNIFICENT JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF ULTRARUNNING AND RACING; $31

cover of Grand Trail by Frederic Berg and Alexis Berg
© VeloPress

Set that New Year's resolution high. Really high. Inspiring and beautiful, this coffee-table book visits 13 iconic ultrarunning locations across the world in stunning color and black-and-white photography, and profiles 16 astonishing champions who've mastered these breathtaking, supremely challenging courses.

Find It: Amazon

7. GRAZE SNACK SUBSCRIPTIONS; $42 FOR THREE BOXES

mixed snacks and their ingredients from graze
Graze

The right kind of fuel is essential to running, especially during long distances. Gift your favorite runner with Graze snack boxes; each box has eight energy-packed snacks that easily travel. Snacks are each perfectly portioned into six servings. And with more than 100 options, there's a lot to choose from. Three categories a runner is likely to try: nuts and seeds, superfoods, and protein bars, bites, and toppers.

Find It: Graze

8. BABY TREND EXPEDITION JOGGER STROLLER; $103

jogging stroller
Amazon

New parents are often eager to get moving after a baby is born. They can start running again—and give a kid a fun ride—using this jogger stroller. It has a trio of large bicycle tires to smoothly roll over all surfaces, four cup holders (two for an adult, two for a child), a storage compartment, and a five-point harness to keep baby secure. It easily folds into a compact unit for stashing in the car.

Find It: Amazon

9. T-SHIRT QUILT; $75 AND UP

T-shirt quilt by Project Repat
Project Repat

Wrapping a runner in a blanket just after they cross the finish line is a long-standing tradition—and a necessity in cold-weather races. Give the practice a unique spin with this customized T-shirt quilt. Crowdsource some favorite or meaningful T-shirts from the runner's friends, and ask for tees from the runner too (but keep the end product a secret!). Ship them to Project Repat, choose a color for the fleece backing, and within weeks your runner will have a personalized quilt to warm up with—and keep forever. And don't worry about a little post-race sweat—the quilt is machine washable.

Find It: Project Repat

10. FITBIT ALTA FITNESS TRACKER; $124

alta fitbit
Amazon

Data-obsessed runners are all about the metrics while running. The Alta Fitbit can illuminate their activities during the rest of the day (and night) as well. It uses an array of sensors to track activity levels, sleep patterns, steps taken, floors climbed, calories burned, and more. Using Bluetooth, it automatically, wirelessly connects and syncs with more than 200 leading iOS, Android, and Windows devices. It's also sweat, rain, and splash proof, so it doesn't need to come off in the shower.

Find It: Amazon

11. SPOTIFY GIFT CARD; $30

image of $30 spotify gift card
Amazon

A runner's soundtrack is important—and often carefully chosen. With this gift card, runners who are Spotify subscribers can choose from millions of tracks to keep them going through three months of runs. 

Find It: Amazon

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Health
This Fitness Startup Lets You Pay for Gym Time by the Minute
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In a perfect world, factors like time, money, and convenience would never stand in the way of your workouts. But as anyone who’s signed up for a gym membership and never got around to using it knows, that isn't always the case. A new startup aims to make fitness more accessible to people who are unwilling or unable to make a serious financial commitment up front. As Fast Company reports, POPiN lets users at several participating health clubs in New York City pay for gym time by the minute whenever they want.

The concept applies sharing economy principles to the fitness industry. Members with the app on their iPhone or Android phone can choose from four gyms currently partnered with the startup. Each center includes luxurious amenities that are normally exclusive to members paying roughly $200 a month. With POPiN, users can walk in, check in with the front desk, pay $.15 to $.26 for each minute they’re there, and check out before they leave. A 45-minute workout might end up costing them around $8.

The average gym membership goes for nearly $60 a month, and gyms depend on the fact that a significant chunk of their customers let memberships go to waste. POPiN claims it is designed for people who might be more comfortable hitting the treadmill every day one week and taking a break from the gym the next, as opposed to adhering to a strict schedule. With a variety of fitness centers in their system, POPiN also wants to give its users greater access to a diverse range of equipment than they would get with a single gym.

The app has been around for only a few months and is limited to New York City for now, but the long-term plan is to expand to more cities across the country within the year. If you’re still waiting for POPiN to arrive in your area, here are some more app-based ways to improve your exercise regimen today.

[h/t Fast Company]

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