Ever had a really tough workout, only to come home a few hours laster and self sabotage by cleaning out your refrigerator – and I don’t mean with a sponge?
If you have found yourself in this predicament, it may be time to take another look at your workouts.
Your brain chemistry ultimately determines a lot of the way you feel, including your appetite.
One of the most important neurotransmitters to keep balanced is serotonin.
When your serotonin level is low, you will be more susceptible to crave carbohydrates and to drink alcohol, smoke or indulge some other addiction. Low serotonin makes you feel depressed. But serotonin is only part of the picture.
You also have another major neurotransmitter called dopamine. When your dopamine level is high, you are likely to feel anxious, aggressive, and have difficulty sleeping. If your dopamine is too low dopamine, you can feel depressed and exhausted.
Ideally, you will want to have balanced levels of serotonin to combat depression and enough dopamine to feel alert enough to enjoy your life.
You Can Boost Low Serotonin Through Exercise
Engaging in high intensity exercise may only make you feel worse, both mentally and physically, if you haven’t had the proper rest or nutrition. If you feel physically wiped out and are eating for energy or to stave off depression, you can rejuvenate your mind and body by:
Walking in nature
Practicing yoga, qi gong or tai chi
Trying low impact aerobics
Lifting light weights with high reps
Exercises That Temporarily Lower Dopamine and Raise Serotonin
If your dopamine is too high, you may feel wound up and anxious. Because carbohydrates are natural tranquilizers, many of us turn to cakes, ice cream, and cookies when we feel anxious, only to feel worse afterwards. A better way to lower dopamine:
Jogging, rowing, stairmaster
High-exertion weight lifting
Listen To Your Body
Because anyone can alternate from a low serotonin, high-dopamine (depressed and anxious) to a low serotonin, low-dopamine (exhausted and wiped out) state, tune into your frame of mind as you plan your workout for the day.
Try yoga after an exhausting day at work to restore your mind and body. When you have anxiety to burn off, go for a run or lift heavy weights.
My business, Total Fitness, is about helping you achieve balance – not just flexibility, body composition, strength, and endurance – but also quality of life. Discipline doesn’t mean inflexibility – it means treating yourself with love and intelligence.
According to my book, Healing Depression: A Holistic Guide, exercise has been found to be as effective as group therapy for improving your mood. The idea of a dumb jock is a false stereotype. A person on a stationary bicycle has more brain activity than someone watching an educational video. Working out has been proven to improve your creativity.
And By The Way, Drink Your Water!
One author believes that low tryptophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin, may be related to dehydration.
Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, M.D., author of Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, says that your tryptophan level drops every time you get thirsty. Maybe that is why so many of us have difficulty distinguishing whether we are hungry or whether we really need something to drink!
All your neurotransmitters work in water, so drink up regularly to keep your brain chemistry working properly.
I wrote and published an earlier version of this blog post in 1998. Truth lives on!