It's scientifically proven to make you happier. How 'bout that?

By Mary Anderson
May 08, 2020
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Exercise does more than simply fend off the blues. It actually turns up your happy—and even small doses do the trick. A review of research at the University of Michigan found that people who work out regularly for as little as 10 minutes feel more upbeat.

“Consistent evidence suggests aerobic exercise is efficacious in eliciting a happy mood,” says study coauthor Zhanjia Zhang. (There’s not enough data on resistance training.) “Based on our findings, all intensities of exercise lead to increased happiness.”

Why? “There are studies showing that exercise increases dopamine synthesis, which in turn leads to an elevated mood,” says Zhang. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter—a substance in the brain that transmits nerve impulses—that’s linked to pleasure. (And this is just one of the major mental health benefits of working out.)

To help you trigger this natural mood elevator, Shape consulting fitness director Jen Widerstrom delivers a 10-minute workout not only packs in cardio and strength but is also a crowd-pleaser. “I made the circuit body-weight based, so it’s very accessible,” she says. As a former trainer on The Biggest Loser who works with pro athletes and everyday exercisers—both as a fitness pro and a life coach—Widerstrom has recognized a common thread that makes you beam post-routine. “Everybody wants to think there’s some magic pill,” she says. “But the greatest motivating factor I’ve seen is pride—the sense of, ‘I tried. I showed up.’” (See: Mistakes People Make When Setting Fitness Goals, According to Jen Widerstrom)

To lower the excuses bar, Widerstrom starts this circuit—10 moves of one minute each—on the floor, to coax you into action even when you’re most resistant. From there, you’ll work up to standing exercises and finish big with plyometrics like squat jumps to go into the aerobic zone. (If you want more mini workouts, check out these 15 Home Workouts You Can Do It 15 Minutes.)

“The beauty is that it’s also very scalable,” she says. “If you want to keep going, take a minute or two to break, then move down the list from 10 back to 1.” If you need to build up to your 10-minute habit, start by doing just the first move and tacking on the next exercise on the list each day. Either route you take, you reap the mental boost of showing up!

10-Minute Bodyweight Workout

How it works: Do the 10 moves below for the indicated number of reps or time interval. Feeling good? Repeat the circuit once or twice more.

You'll need: Just some space to move. (Optional: a yoga mat.)

Reaching Knee Slider

A. Lie face-up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place palms on the tops of thighs to start.

B. Contract abs to lift shoulder blades off the floor and slide palms up legs toward knees.

C. Pause at the top, then slowly roll down to start.

Repeat for 1 minute.

Twisting Suitcase

A. Lie face-up on the floor with arms and legs extended to start, biceps by ears.

B. Contract abs to lift arms, legs, and shoulders off the floor, coming into a balance on hips, legs lifted so shins are parallel to the floor. Hands are clasped in front of chest.

C. Do 3 Russian twists: Twist torso to the right, reaching hands toward the floor. Repeat on the opposite side, then on the right once more.

D. Release arms and legs to the floor to return to start. Repeat, alternating which side starts the Russian twists.

Repeat for 1 minute.

Prayer V-Up Hold

A. Lie face-up on the floor legs extended in a moderate "V" shape. Extend arms toward the ceiling directly over chest, palms pressed together in a prayer motion.

B. Contract abs to lift arms, legs, and shoulders off the floor, reaching palms between legs.

C. Hold for 2 seconds, then release arms and legs to the floor to return to start.

Repeat for 1 minute.

Single-Leg Glute Bridge (each leg)

A. Lie face-up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend the left leg up diagonally toward the ceiling (parallel to right thigh) and place palms on the floor to start.

B. Press into the right foot to lift hips into a single-leg bridge.

C. Pause at the top, then lower hips to just tap the ground to return to start. Be careful not to over-arch the back at any point in the movement.

Do 20 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Downward Dog Alternating Press

A. From a high plank position, lift hips up and back to form an upside-down "V" shape. That's downward dog.

B. Bend elbows out to the sides to lower head toward the ground. Press into palms to extend elbows and return to start.

C. Then bend knees to lower hips slightly toward heels, stomach pressing back toward thighs. Straighten legs to return to start. That's one rep.

D. Continue alternating between the upper-body press and lower-body press.

Do 10 reps.

Curtsy Lunge

A. Start standing with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips.

B. Step the right foot back and behind the left foot, lowering into a curtsy lunge until front knee forms a 90-degree angle and back knee hovers just off the floor.

C. Press off the right foot to stand and return to start.

D. Repeat on the left leg. Continue alternating.

Do 15 reps per side.

Tempo Push-Up (3-1-1)

A. Start in a high plank position, shoulder overs wrists and feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. (Modify by lowering to knees or placing hands on an elevated surface, if needed.)

B. Take 3 counts to slowly lower chest to the ground, bending elbows back at 45-degrees.

C. Take 1 count to press body away from the floor to return to start. Keep core engaged throughout the whole movement to keep body in a straight line.

Do 12 reps.

Planked Side Knee Pull

A. Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists and feet together.

B. Draw the right knee toward the right shoulder, slightly curving spine to reach right shoulder toward knee.

C. Place right foot next to left to return to start. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating.

Do 15 reps per side.

High Squat Lateral Jump

A.  Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart to start.

B. Bend knees and hinge hips slightly back to come into a quarter squat, swinging arms backward.

C. Swing arms forward and jump up and to the right, landing softly and immediately lowering into another quarter squat.

D. Swing arms to jump, this time to the left. Repeat, alternating jumps to the left and right.

Do 20 jumps in each direction.

Lunge Jump Switches

A. Start in a lunge position with the right leg forward, both knees bent at 90-degree angles. Hold at the bottom for 1-2 seconds.

B. Swing arms back, then forward to jump, switching legs mid-air and landing softly with the left foot in front.

C. Immediately lower into a lunge on the left side, knees at 90-degree angles. Hold at the bottom for 1-2 seconds.

Do 20 reps total (10 per side). 

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