When it comes to mental health there are no real “quick fixes” but today I’m sharing some basic information on two ways to boost your mood and why these strategies work so well.
The Power of Movement & Exercise
At this point, we’ve all likely heard how movement and exercise can boost your mood. There is research that tells us exercise helps improve the amount of feel good chemicals in our brains. But, did you know that even moderate exercise helps a process in the brain called neurogenesis, the growth and development of brain tissue?
Why is this important?
Neurogenesis is important because it offers us the ability separate old memories from new ones, allowing for greater flexibility and clarity in our lives – symptoms that are often hallmarks of mental illness (brain tissues tend to shrink this limiting those functions). Fascinating, right?
The exercise doesn’t even have to be particularly intense or consecutive. For example, a longitudinal study in Australia suggests that about 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense exercise is enough to get a boost in your mood. And it doesn’t really matter how you get in that time. Some combination of cardio (even walking) and/or resistance training works very well and leads to benefits such as stress relief, better sleep and reduced cholesterol among other others.
So if you’re looking for something to add to your wellness routine, start small! Moving about 30 minutes per day can be a critical way to boost your mood. And, you can even enjoy some tunes while you do it!
Eating Your Way to Better Mental Health
Consuming delicious, nutrient-dense food can also be a helpful way to boost your mood.
Have you ever felt stomach uneasiness or “butterflies” in your stomach when you were feeling nervous or anxious? I know I have. Have you ever felt a deep, unsettling pit in your stomach when you felt sad or depressed? Yeah, me too. These are hallmark indicators of anxiety and depression. These examples highlight the importance of the mind-body connection.
Our bodies are incredibly complicated systems and we still have a lot to learn about how our bodies work. Thankfully, we already have some great research on the benefits of a balanced diet on mental health.
Could you have a leaky gut?
There is some (relatively) new research that suggests that conditions like depression are linked to gut permeability, often referred to as “leaky gut”. Essentially, our stomach has a lot of digestive enzymes and chemicals that are really helpful to us. If we ingest a lot of toxins and combat a lot of stress that delicate balance is disrupted, leading those helpful bacteria to leak out of our guts to negatively impact our bodies and minds. We can help restore and maintain that delicate balance by eating nutrient-rich foods and foods that help reduce inflammation.
There are a variety foods that can boost your mood, but the best thing you can do is eat a range of fruits and veggies (eat all the colors of the rainbow!). When you can, have those fruits and veggies be fresh. Foods lose nutrients as they age (or are frozen) so getting fresh food ensures that you get the most bang for your buck.
And while you’re introducing a wider range of fresh, whole foods in your diet, don’t forget that food is also fun! Don’t forget to leave space for the things that you enjoy just because you enjoy them. Restriction of food very rarely works and can even create a pathway for eating disorders to settle in.
Switch it up, but make it your own
Boosting your mood isn’t a one-size fits all approach. If you’re considering making some changes to your diet or exercise routine, consult with a licensed physician first. As you can see here, making these changes can be simple but not necessarily easy so feel free to get the support you need from a therapist or health coach.
Whether you start to walk more with your pup, or add some kombucha in your diet, take pride in the small steps forward and sooner than later you’ll find that you’re feeling better and more balanced as time chugs along.
Jor-El is Co-founder of Viva Wellness and a foodie and film buff. He most often writes about mental health, relationships, food and mindfulness. When he’s not busy working, he typically can be found lounging or walking around NYC with his pup Nomi.