How Exercise Can Make You Happy

Why the Mix Works

"To build Heather's confidence and make sure she didn't get discouraged, I started with easy goals," Sarvarian says. "We got her heart rate up with short spurts of machine exercise, then moved on to group classes or workouts with friends. Being accountable to someone will help her stay motivated."

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The Science

Exercise is a powerful weapon against the blues. "In the short term, it can elevate mood when you're feeling down. Long term, it can knock out milder forms of clinical depression," Smits says. And as little as 60 minutes a week of any kind of physical activity (no arduous gym sessions necessary) can do it: Researchers at The University of Queensland School of Human Movement Studies find that subjects who did low-level activities for at least an hour a week cut their risk for depression by 30 to 40 percent.

Finn's Hurdle

"I gained 50 pounds in the last year partly because I'd been so low," Finn says. "My cat Squirrel died, and I ate for comfort. The weight gain made me feel bad about my body—I was too embarrassed to exercise in front of anyone. Seeing myself in the mirror at the gym was disheartening."

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Her Biggest Motivator

"It really helped to have Larysa Didio train me. I wanted to please her, so I pushed myself and started losing weight right away, which made me feel better. I also loved walking with a friend by the Hudson River. There were tons of people biking or walking their dogs. I always felt happier afterward."

Her Week Three Breakthrough

"I started with 10- or 15-minute workouts, but even those gave me a sense of accomplishment. From there, I began building a fitness base, and by the third week, something clicked. I wasn't exercising because I had to but because I wanted to. It helps me feel good all day, and I accomplish more."

How Exercise Helped Her in a Crisis

"Toward the end of the program, my second cat, Shep, died. I felt incredibly lonely, but I kept working out, because I knew it would make me feel better. And it did. After six weeks of regular exercise, I was happier and felt more positive about my body. Plus, I lost 14 pounds! I can't believe how much more confident I feel."

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Your Blues-Beating RX

Three days of moderately intense cardio 45 to 60 minutes + one or two days of any outdoor exercise 60 to 90 minutes + one or two days of group fitness classes = a happier you!

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