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MOOD BOOSTERS FOR A HEALTHIER, HAPPIER YOU

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Mood boosters for a healthier, happier you 

Sandra walks into the office at 9am with a smile on her face and feeling good. She has had a good night’s sleep, been for an early morning walk and has enjoyed a nutritious breakfast. 

Sandra arrives home at 6pm on the same day, only now she isn’t in such a great mood. In the afternoon, she had a disagreement with a colleague, had to deal with a rude customer and was cut up at a roundabout on the way home, by someone driving as if they had a death wish. 

Although Sandra didn’t really notice her bad mood, her partner certainly did when he arrived home that evening. 

I’m sure we can all relate to Sandra in some way or another. Our moods are emotional states that we usually describe as being good or bad. Moods can also be quite obvious to us and others or they can ‘creep’ up on us, just like in Sandra’s case, who started the day well but ended up not feeling so great. 

We are all going to face different situations each day that could be seen to have a negative or positive influence on our moods. That is natural and comes part and parcel of being human. Sometimes things will test us and we might have to take some deep breaths and count to ten! 

What can we do to positively to influence our moods? 

Thankfully, there are many things that have been shown to boost mood. Let’s take a look at a few different areas and some strategies that we can use to help us. 

Exercise 

You might have heard of the term ‘runners high’ which refers to a feeling of euphoria experienced after intense aerobic running exercise. When we exercise, particularly intensely, endorphins are released in the body and it is thought that these endorphins cause us to feel good. Because we know how good we feel when we exercise, that in itself can provide motivation to exercise regularly. It makes sense that we feel good when we exercise because by doing so, we are doing something positive and beneficial to our health. 

There are many forms of exercise, each with unique benefits. Resistance training is great for building muscle and improving our body composition, which is the ratio of body fat to muscle that we carry. Improving our strength and body composition can help us look and feel good, improve bone health, as well as reducing risks for many diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

A study published in June 2018 (1) found that people with mild to moderate depression were able to significantly reduce their symptoms by performing resistance training two or more times per week compared to those that didn’t train. 

Aerobic training, both high intensity interval training (HIIT) and low intensity steady state (LISS) are both effective ways to increase cardiovascular health and fitness as well as to burn fat. Multiple studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help people who are suffering from depression feel better. 

A study published in Feb 2016 (2) found that yoga practice can help to improve general health of patients and may reduce depression and anxiety. The benefits of yoga include decreased stress and tension, increased strength, balance and flexibility of muscles, lowered blood pressure, and reduction in cortisol levels. 

Nutrition 

The impact of nutrition on our physical health is well established and many of us are acutely aware that what we eat can affect how we feel. 

It’s well known that being hungry can negatively affect our mood. If our goal is to lose weight (body fat) then we need to find ways to be able to achieve this without feeling hungry all the time. 

High protein foods are the most satiating, meaning they keep us fuller for longer. A protein-rich diet is also ideal for building and maintaining muscle. 

Examples of protein-rich foods:

Seafood 

Poultry 

Red meat 

Eggs 

Milk 

Cottage cheese 

Cheese 

Yoghurt 

Lentils 

Quinoa 

Beans 

Tofu 

Chickpeas 

Protein powders: Whey 

Casein 

Vegan protein powders: 

Pea, soy, rice, hemp 

Fibre-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables also help to keep us feeling full as well as providing important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants important to good general health. 

Examples of fibre-rich foods: 

Pears 

Avocados 

Raspberries 

Blackberries 

Peas 

Broccoli 

Artichokes 

Lentils 

Kidney Beans 

Chickpeas 

Oats 

Chia Seeds 

Foods associated with a positive effect on mood 

Eat your greens 

Several studies have found that a greater consumption of vegetables and fruits is associated with a decreased risk of depression. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, contain a B vitamin called folate. A study in 2017 found that people with depression had lower levels of folate in their blood as well as lower dietary intake of folate (3). 

Consume foods good for gut health 

Fibre is important for gut health, which is now being recognised as being important for brain health (the ‘gut-brain’ axis). Include fruits vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrain foods as part of a healthy diet. 

Probiotics found in live yoghurt, kefir and fermented vegetables also play a role in digestive health. A study in 2017 found compelling evidence for probiotics alleviating depressive symptoms (4). 

Consume foods (or supplements) rich in Omega-3 fatty acids 

There is strong evidence linking Omega-3 fatty acids to brain function. In a review of 26 studies, authors concluded that high fish consumption can reduce the risk of depression (5). 

Not everyone likes to eat fish and so in order to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids into our diets, we might consider taking an Omega-3 fish oil supplement. Some examples of vegetarian and vegan sources of Omega-3 are chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seed and walnuts. 

Just like choosing to engage in exercise helps make us feel good about ourselves, choosing to consume healthy, nourishing foods, also has a positive effect.

Mindset 

It pays to be aware of the impact that our thoughts have on our mood. One of the main concepts in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is that we feel the way we think. CBT isn’t so much about positive thinking, it’s more about identifying so called ‘thinking errors’ and then challenging those erroneous thoughts. 

Let’s take a look at two of the most pervasive examples of thinking errors. 

All or nothing thinking 

This is a classic thinking error in the world of health and fitness. An example of this is when we feel like we are either ‘on a diet’ or ‘not on a diet’. The word diet simply refers to the kinds of foods that a person eats. Rather than thinking we are on a diet or off a diet, it is often helpful to take a more moderate approach whereby we allow the occasional indulgent treat without feeling guilty. 

In the same way that eating one salad won’t immediately give you the body you’ve dreamed of, eating one cake will not stop you in your quest to get in better shape. Regularly eating too many cakes and bingeing will, which brings us on to another way our thoughts can sabotage us.

Catastrophising 

Catastrophising is another thinking error that can impair our progress in the health and fitness arena. Think of the saying ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’. For example, we tell ourselves that we are going to exercise every day this week, but something unexpected comes up on one of the days and we end up not getting our training session in. 

Catastrophising and all or nothing thinking often go hand in hand. In this example we decide that we are never going to reach our goals. If we are not careful, this could affect our mood and we might ‘fall off the wagon’ and reach for the wine/biscuits (or whatever it is we like to reach for) to try to temporarily lift our mood. We have missed one gym session and have ended up thinking we have completely failed and might as well not bother trying. 

The reality is that missing one training session or eating one biscuit will not dictate whether or not we succeed with our health and fitness goals, but recognising how we react and think might.

Sleep 

A few people seem to be able to cope well on very little sleep, but most of us need a decent amount of sleep. Studies show that lack of sleep can have various negative effects, such as difficulty concentrating, poor mood and memory issues. Frequent poor sleep can increase the risk of weight gain and developing serious medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes (6). 

What can we do about this? 

Due to our busy lifestyles, it is not always possible for us to get enough sleep. We just have to do our best. 

Tips for getting a good sleep 

Try to get to bed and wake up at regular times. This will help to regulate your ‘body clock’. 

Limit caffeine consumption in the afternoon and evenings. The half life of caffeine is 4-5 hours so it takes a while to get out of your system. People vary in their sensitivity to caffeine, see what works best for you. If you aren’t sleeping well and are drinking caffeine in the evening, try introducing a ‘cut off’ time earlier in the day. 

Spend time outside to increase your exposure to daylight. This helps to provide a signal to your brain to help it regulate your sleep/wakefulness cycle. 

Regular exercise can help you sleep better, although exercising intensely close to bed time can have the opposite effect. Exercise is a great stress buster and it can also help us to feel naturally tired. 

Reduce exposure to blue light in the evening. That means limiting the use of mobile phones, tablets and computers late at night. Try switching off an hour before bed time.

References: 

[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2680311 

[2] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-benefits-of-yoga#section1 

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28759846 

[4] https://annals-general-psychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12991-017-0138-2 

[5] https://jech.bmj.com/content/70/3/299 

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2845795/

Medical Disclaimer

The material provided within this book is for information purposes only and in no way 

supersedes any prior advice given by a medical practitioner or therapist.

Should you follow any of the information provided, you are choosing to do so of your own free will, without coercion and in the full knowledge that the material has not been personally designed for you. Should you suffer from a medical condition of any kind or suspect that following any of the suggestions in this book may cause you a medical problem of any kind whatsoever that you should speak to a qualified medical practitioner for advice.

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