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Exercise & Emotions

by Darcy Nee

This time of year can trigger a bit of the “winter blues” for some people. The sun sets earlier, the temperature begins dropping and time spent outside begins to dwindle. Author Julia Ross, M.A., addresses this issue in her book “The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Rebalance Your Emotional Chemistry and Rediscover Your Natural Sense of Well-Being.” Ross talks about the cause of these “blue” feelings as well as ways to eliminate the feelings of anxiety, stress, and even depression. And one way she says, is exercise.

Exercise can help reshape our moods by increasing the levels of serotonin within our bodies, Ross explains. “Serotonin deficiency is far and away the most common mood problem we see at our clinic,” she describes in the book. The depletion of serotonin can inflict a dark cloud on men and women of all ages. Serotonin is a human’s primary defense against depression and anxiety and a deficiency of this hormone can be a factor in many unrelated psychological and physical symptoms, including irritability and panic, insomnia and muscle pain, Ross explains. When the brain acquires enough serotonin, you are more likely to experience positive thoughts and feel happy. However, when there is a decrease in serotonin levels, the opposite feelings can occur.

“Serotonin is synthesized in your body from tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) found in foods like turkey, beef and cheese. Tryptophan first converts into a substance called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which then converts directly into serotonin. This crucial three-step process can be short-circuited by a number of things,” said Ross. A few examples include not ingesting enough tryptophan in our diets, or your natural production of serotonin may be inhibited by chemicals in our foods such as caffeine, alcohol or even the artificial sweetener aspartame, Ross describes. Furthermore, she adds that serotonin production can also be affected by pregnancy, lack of sunlight or not enough exercise.

Exercise increases serotonin levels by requiring your muscles to work. By doing so, the body needs amino acids for muscle repair. “Your bloodstream always carries an assortment of amino acids for just such contingencies and delivers them quickly to the muscles in need,” Ross writes. That’s true for all amino acids except one—tryptophan—the only one that can be used by your brain to make serotonin. While the other amino acids are diverted, tryptophan travels straight to the brain and is quickly converted into enough 5-HTP and then serotonin so that in half an hour you are feel rejuvenated.

In addition, the increase in oxygen the body receives from exercise helps raise serotonin levels because oxygen is critical in the formation of serotonin from amino acids, Ross said. And because an exercise-stimulated serotonin works only in the short term, we should be exercising frequently. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends receiving an equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity (2 hours and 30 min.) a week.

So what are we waiting for? It seems as if exercise is a win-win: it burns calories, strengthens muscles, and aids in relieving the stress, anxiety and the “winter blues”. What more can we ask for!

At Kinetic Konnections we make exercise easier for adults and children. By improving your stability and alignment, your coordination improves as does efficiency. You get a better workout, and use your muscles more appropriately when the muscles work better together.