More and more, there’s real, science-backed recognition that regular workouts do just as much for our mental health and good moods as they do for the rest of our bodies.
For a lot of us, that’s an even stronger motivator than looking better, getting stronger, or running faster. And the proof is in the data.
A survey from UK Active and Savanta found that more than half of the 2,271 people polled say better mental health is their biggest motivator to exercise.
That’s some shift from the days when working out was all about shredding fat and building muscle – even though those are still perfectly valid goals too.
At Another Round, we believe in the transformative power of exercise. Everyone should have the tools and support they need to live healthier, happier lives.
So, as the days are drawing in and S.A.D. can creep in for some of us, we’re taking a closer look at the connections between our moods and moving our bodies.
We know when we’re in a good mood. Or a bad one. But what goes into them? The short answer is, it’s complicated.
But essentially, the way we feel is regulated by levels of various neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that carry signals throughout the body. Dopamine and serotonin are two of the most important, and responsible for regulating our moods.
Dopamine and serotonin are ‘happy chemicals’ that the brain releases at certain times. Dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward while serotonin creates longer-lasting feelings of happiness.
Together, these chemicals create good moods. And if you’ve got low levels of them, well… you can fill in the blanks.
So far so simple. But the much more interesting question is what causes the levels of these chemicals, dopamine in particular, to fluctuate within our bodies? And what can we do to build them up?
Behind every good mood, there’s a rush of dopamine. There’s no magic pill that suddenly increases how much of it we make. So diet and lifestyle changes are our best option.
If you give your body all the building blocks it needs to make dopamine, then it’s only natural for the process to become a little easier. Better still, these nutrients like magnesium, tyrosine, and omega−3 acids, are easy to incorporate into your routine.
The BBC even has a ‘dopamine diet’, which covers all the major food groups you’ll want to target, including:
Magnesium supplements are really popular too, because they can help with both sleep and blood sugar levels. Just ask our very own Tash, who takes them every single day and swears by them.
Spending time outdoors is one of the best things we can do for our bodies if we want to live long and healthy lives. But it can also have a real impact on our day-to-day moods.
That’s because sunlight gives us a vital boost of vitamin D, which has been proven to help with the production and release of dopamine.
Even so, a lot of us are deficient in vitamin D – especially in winter when there’s less daylight and fewer opportunities to spend time out and about.
Luckily, there are plenty of supplements that boost vitamin D levels, and healthy fatty fish like salmon is another fantastic source of it.
Remember that survey we were talking about earlier? Well, it turns out that the people who say they exercise for their mental health are really on to something.
There’s lots of research that links higher levels of physical activity with higher levels of dopamine, but you don’t have to be crushing a 90-minute gym session every day.
Small changes like going out less, sleeping more, and spending just a few minutes being active will quickly add up to a change in the way you feel.
So don’t let perfection be your enemy. Add whatever activity you can to your routine and see the difference it makes.
Don’t just take our word for it though. A study in the US found that: “on average, a person has 3.4 poor mental health days per month. But among those who exercise, the number of poor mental health days drops by more than 40%.”
That’s huge. So if you’re not feeling positive, the best fix could be pumping yourself up, getting your trainers on, and hitting the road for a 5k, a 10k or even a walk around the block.
Sometimes that’s all it takes.
If you’ve come here wanting to know how to get in a good mood when depressed or down, all of the tips above will help. But positivity can be contagious too.
So here’s a bit of dopamine from Another Round member Felicity, who sums up what staying active means for her body and mind.
Reading that certainly lifts our spirits. Hopefully it does the same for you this World Mental Health Day. To keep that feeling, make sure you’re eating right, getting outside, and working your body properly. If you need help with any of that, drop us a line.
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