Don’t feel like exercising?  Do it anyway.  Research shows you will feel less stressed, regardless of whether you’re looking forward to hitting the gym, or dragging yourself there with dread.

Previously it was believed that being inclined to activity will make working out beneficial — nurturing the false belief that not wanting to exercise equates to a good reason to “give it a rest.”  Well, for all you couch potatoes, the bad news is the GOOD news that you don’t have to feel like exercising to feel better afterwards.

A recent study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience compared the stress reactions of mice after various conditions — think of these conditions as 1) dormant/inactive, 2) voluntary activity and 3) activity under duress. After several weeks of this, the exercised mice exhibited less fright or flight under stress compared to the sedentary mice.  The decrease in anxiety occurred regardless of whether the mice moved for the sake of moving or were forced into action.

Does the same hold true for us humans?  While further research is needed to confirm equivalence, previous studies suggest the mental benefits of being active.  British researchers found that employees tended to work faster and more efficiently on days they exercised during their lunch breaks.  Nor does this necessarily require running the equivalent of an exercise wheel: Yoga was found to reduce anxiety, improve outlook and heighten mood.

So, next time you’re feeling trapped in the rat race, with working out the last thing on your mind, stop with the excuses, and get moving.  Eager or averse, you’ll be better prepared for the trials and tribulations of daily life.

Published December 1, 2013