According to the CDC, fewer than 33 percent of adults in the U.S. exercise regularly, and 36 percent don't exercise at all. While it doesn't mention what the other 31 percent are or aren't doing; presumably they are the ones who exercise in fits and starts throughout the year, or perhaps only during bathing-suit season. However, besides firming up abs, thighs and buttocks, exercise has some interesting biochemical effects that help keep stress and anxiety at bay, and heighten a person's sense of well-being and confidence.
Currently, scientists are debating which chemicals in the body are responsible for producing the happy feelings induced by exercise. Most of the compounds being studied are neurotransmitters, the molecules that help the brain communicate with the body. You may have heard of some of them: endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Research has found that moderate exercise may also have an antioxidant effect that lessens the effects of stress on the body [Source: Reynolds]. Regardless of which molecule is responsible, there is no doubt that exercise has a positive effect on mood and cognitive function.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America says that even a quick 10-minute walk can relieve anxiety for several hours. Regular exercise may be as good as medicine and psychotherapy for lessening symptoms of anxiety [source: USA Today]. While feeling anxious before a date hardly qualifies you as having an anxiety disorder, the same principles can be applied. The mood-lifting effects of just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity bike riding can last up to 12 hours [source: USA Today].
In addition to taking a brisk walk to relieve date-related stress on the big day, consider making that sporadic exercise schedule more consistent. Much of the research into exercise and anxiety shows that whatever effects are gained from short-term exercise are multiplied in the long-term. These long-term effects include less anxiety, clearer thinking, more energy and sounder sleep. And let's not forget another important benefit of exercise -- being fit and looking healthy.
Looking good is a big confidence booster, and next up we'll talk about how dressing for a date can help.