For a recent project, I have been doing lots of research on mental health and how important exercise and the right diet can be to happiness and a positive mood. Although I am a ridiculously unreliable exerciser (despite my love for yoga, hiking, and looking good!), I must admit that every time I break a sweat I do feel good about myself. I also seem to see invisible physical benefits very, very quickly (yeah, I definitely have a smaller tummy now that I ran for 15 minutes…definitely).
Similarly, I have a love-hate relationship with health food. At times, I am all about whole foods, shunning processed or anything with added salt or sugar or fat or any ingredients I can’t pronounce. Other times (like around the holidays), I am a sugar, fat, and carb aficionado. The more chocolate, butter, and booze the better! On the whole, though, I like to think that I am a relatively healthy eater, and I take pride in forcing my husband to be the same.
The natural buzz I get from eating well and yes, exercising occasionally, is not just self-righteous health-nut pride, but Mother Nature’s way of saying “Yes, this is good for you – do more of this and all will be well!”
Food and Exercise Can Improve Mood
Foods with complex carbohydrates, magnesium and selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, amino acids, and a variety of vitamins and antioxidants can help stimulate the production of feel-good chemicals in your brain. Boosting your production of serotonin, endorphins, fatty gray matter, and neurotransmitters in your brain translates to elevated energy levels, improved mood, better sleep, less frustration and anxiety, better stress management techniques, fewer symptoms of depression, improved memory, and even higher levels of motivation and alertness.
Some star foods for these benefits include bananas, spinach, salmon, walnuts, dark chocolate (hooray!), milk, brown rice, and turkey.
The somewhat harder pill to swallow is that exercise is not only essential for great physical health but also for excellent emotional and mental well-being. Working up a sweat, breathing hard, and stretching your muscles prompts your brain to release feel-good chemicals and produce hormones that have many of the same effects as the above-mentioned foods. Exercise can help you relax, reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and reduce symptoms of depression. As an added benefit, exercising in bright daylight can help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder combat symptoms of seasonal depression.
So the next time you have nowhere to go on a weekend night or nobody to hang out with, swap the TV and the take-out line for a jog and a salmon and veggie-licious experience that will leave you feeling content and relaxed. Who knew that exercise and food could be such healthy companions for your mood? Sign me up!