So here’s the plan: Try a new tip each day. Work through the month, accumulating more changes as you go and make over your mood—to happy!
1. Believe in what you’re doing.
Convincing yourself that by working out you’re doing something positive for yourself can be as important to boosting your mood as the exercise itself, according to Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in California. In one of his recent studies, 60 subjects exercised for a single session. Those who were told about the benefits of exercise before working out were better able to cope with stress and anxiety (key mood wreckers) than those who were not.
2. Eat the mood-booster-in-a-bowl.
Eat breakfast every morning; it’s the most important thing you can do for your mood for the rest of the day, says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of the newly revised Food & Mood. “If you skip breakfast, you’ll never be able to get your mood up to what it would have been had you eaten something.” It doesn’t have to be much: Just be sure to include both protein (eggs, low-fat milk or yogurt) and carbohydrates (fruits, whole-grain toast or cereal).
3. Rise and shine—then get moving!
To get the feel-your-best effects from exercise, you have to do it consistently. “Make exercise a nonnegotiable part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth,” says Plante. “Morning is the easiest time to make this happen.” If you wait until later, you run the risk of unexpected things popping up and interfering with your workout. And morning exercise is ideal for weight control. Research shows that after a morning workout, your mood is still elevated at bedtime.
4. Plan to snack.
And often. You should be putting something in your mouth every four to five hours. “People who divide their food intake into mini-meals and snacks evenly distributed throughout the day maintain a more even temperament and are less prone to depression and mood swings,” says Somer. So stock up on quick, no-fuss snack-sized foods, fruits and vegetables.
5. Go social, not solo.
Plan to work out where there are other people around. Studies show that exercising near others—running in a park, walking next to someone on a treadmill—improves mood more than being out alone, even if you never actually talk to anyone. Why? The theory is that watching others inspires you to work out longer and harder, and you feel more committed to the activity, which makes you feel better about yourself.
6. Color your world.
Eat six to eight servings daily of the brightest, most colorful fruits and vegetables you can find. Boosting your consumption of antioxidants (among them, vitamins C and E and beta-carotene) has been proven to improve memory, reaction time and thinking, which boosts your mood.
7. Try the rhythm method.
Pick an activity with repetitive motions, like jogging, swimming, cycling or rowing. “If you don’t have to think about the exercise or what your body is doing, your mind can wander and think about pleasurable things,” says psychologist Kate Hays, Ph.D., owner of the consulting firm Performing Edge. “The more you can do that, the better you’ll feel afterward.”
8. Sweat—but not too much.
Part of the high you experience during and after exercise is due to an increase in body temperature, which causes the release of beta-endorphins, says Keith Johnsgard, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at San Jose State University in California. That heat affects muscles, decreasing internal activity, which causes a feeling of relaxation. Best of all, you don’t need to go overboard to get this effect. A recent study showed that people working out at 40 percent of their aerobic capacity got the same mood benefits as those exercising at 80 percent.
9. Fork up the fish.
At least once a week have sardines, anchovies, pink salmon or striped bass. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and new research shows that when consumption of these fatty acids goes up, depression rates go down. It turns out that these fatty acids may raise levels of serotonin (the brain chemical that’s directly responsible for boosting your mood).
10. Hit the shower.
Raining or snowing today? Too time-crunched to fit in a workout? Jump into the shower. Taking a warm bath or shower can also help give you a temporary mood boost by heating up your core body temperature.
11. Dress up your salads.
Look for salad dressings made with canola or soybean oil, both of which contain alpha linolenic acid—this fatty acid is one of the omega-3 fatty acids, the ones found in fish. Sprinkling on flaxseed (a health-food-store staple) or walnuts also helps up your intake of omega-3’s.
12. Fast-forward your thoughts.
Can’t face a workout today? Then skip to the end of it: You’ll be able to get going, go longer and enjoy yourself more if you think about something positive as a mental warm-up—like how good you’ll feel and look afterward, how nice the sauna will feel, or how effectively you’re beating stress with exercise.
13. Pop a pill.
Taking in sufficient vitamins and minerals daily affects how you feel physically every day, which naturally affects your mood. You know that the best way to fuel up is by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish and lean meats, but let’s face it: 99 out of 100 Americans don’t eat well enough to meet their daily requirements. So it’s a good idea to take a multivitamin supplement. It can help give you an extra boost where you’re lacking. (Try Centrum or Nature Made’s Essential Balance.)
14. Trick—and treat—yourself.
Build rewards into your workouts and you’ll stick to them. Walk to a coffee shop that is two miles away rather than making coffee at home. Splurge on a skim decaf cappuccino. If you like to jog, pick a scenic route. Or take a class at a gym that’s near a store you like so you can browse on the way home.
15. Pick up some prunes.
A recent study at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., found prunes (surprise!) to be the best source of brain-boosting antioxidants. Eat them for snacks (they’re high in fill-you-up fiber and iron) or chop them up and sprinkle them over your breakfast cereal or oatmeal.
16. Become a control freak.
This is your new mantra: By completing my workout, I gain control. Start chanting this now. “It will help you feel as if you have made time for yourself and that you’re in control of your own life,” explains Johnsgard. Remember, you—not a diet, not the weather, not your job—are in control and responsible for your success and happiness.
17. Drink up.
Increase your water intake to eight or more glasses a day. What’s the connection to mood? Not drinking enough water leaves you dehydrated—which causes fatigue and lack of energy and eventually leads to blue moods, says Somer.
18. Get in tune.
Set your workout to music. Tunes not only get you going and keep you going as you exercise, they also directly affect mood. “Listening to music takes your mind off what you’re doing, so the time passes faster,” says musician and former track athlete Bruce Blackman. Find songs with a tempo that matches your tempo (122 beats, or steps, per minute is the average walking tempo for a 5-foot-5, 125-pound woman; joggers average 155 strides per minute). Prerecorded exercise cassettes do the counting for you—just call Sports Music at (800) 878-4764 for 60-minute workout tapes ($13) with various types of music.
19. Try proactive snacking.
No matter what time of day your mood/energy low hits—it can vary from midafternoon to early evening—be prepared. Snack your way out of that slump with two cups of air-popped popcorn with water or half a whole-wheat bagel with nonfat cream cheese and jam. The key: high carbs, which promote the formation of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.
20. Reality-check your overall goals.
Are your goals too lofty? You’ll end up feeling bad if you can’t meet them. Keep goals concrete and reachable (to run a mile without stopping, to cut back 100 calories a day). And keep track of when you reach your goals. Knowing you’ve accomplished what you set out to achieve goes a long way toward improving your mood.
21. Stop snacking on sweets.
Don’t panic—you don’t have to cut them out entirely, just change when you eat them. When you eat sweets for a snack (on an empty stomach), they’re very quickly metabolized, which can cause mood swings. It would be smarter to save them for after a meal. Your body will process sugars more slowly because it has protein, complex carbohydrates and fat to contend with, explains registered dietitian Maria Walls of Weight Watchers International.
22. Track your hidden workout.
Keeping your activity level up even when you’re not exercising can keep a good mood going. To find out how much you’re walking and to add new steps, check out a Digiwalker (a pedometer that attaches to your belt, from $25 to $35. To order one, call 888-SIT-LESS or log on to http://www.digiwalker.com). Your goal? Aim for 10,000 steps or five miles daily, an amount recommended by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. Low-tech tactics: Count flights of stairs, blocks and parking lot slots and better your daily totals the next day.
23. Increase your B.
Bolster your dietary intake of vitamin B6 (found in chicken, fish, bananas and dark green leafy vegetables); it aids in the manufacture of serotonin.
24. Exercise your mouth.
Gossip your way to thin thighs! Talking during exercise makes any workout go by faster and gives you a sense of support and community—all crucial to boosting your mood, says Hays. Consider organizing a neighborhood walking group or making exercise “dates” to go jogging three nights a week with those friends you never get to see.
25. Consider a sugar cutback.
Researchers have found that when you cut sugar from your diet, your mood and depression levels immediately improve. They’re not sure why yet. But in any case, if you’re sugar-sensitive (a cookie or doughnut makes you soar—and then crash), try to cut back on as much refined or added sugar as you can, including hidden sources like ketchup, canned fruit, fruit “drinks” and flavored yogurt, says Somer. If you’re not as sensitive, try eliminating concentrated sugars in candy, cakes, desserts. You may notice a better mood in a matter of days, she adds.
26. Compete—but only with yourself.
For a great mood boost, remove the competition from your exercise program. Studies show that competitive conditions actually have a negative effect on participants’ self-confidence and mood, says Larry M. Leith, author of Exercising Your Way to Better Mental Health. The only time competition works in your favor is when your opponent is you; then it can spice up an old workout and inspire you to work harder, he says.
27. Feed your carb cravings.
When you’re feeling down, you tend to turn to carbohydrate-rich foods as a quick fix. While these do elevate brain levels of tryptophan (which is then converted into mood-boosting serotonin), you’ll feel worse later because of the drop in blood sugar. So don’t ignore these cravings, but try to satisfy them by making sure every meal contains complex carbohydrates like whole grains. Complex carbs give you the mood boost without the swings in blood sugar, so you’ll get fewer cravings later on.
28. Time it right.
You can easily use exercise to manipulate your mood. Say you want to be serene and calm for a big presentation. To prepare, simply schedule an aerobic workout (swimming, jogging, walking, cycling, etc.) for two hours beforehand. Research shows that aerobic exercise reduces feelings of stress and anxiety for up to four to six hours by promoting the release of the brain chemical known as dopamine. In addition, you may want to consider skipping the strength training for the day—anaerobic activities like weight lifting may actually increase anxiety, says Johnsgard. The mood-boosting bonus: Doing aerobic activity regularly has a cumulative positive effect on any anxiety you commonly feel.
29. Jettison some java.
No, you don’t have to cut it out altogether, but stop at two cups of coffee, tea or soda a day. Caffeine may interfere with the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, which is why a cup of joe when you’re low could just make you feel worse.
30. Cut back on the vino.
Alcohol dehydrates cells, suppresses your nervous system and lowers the tryptophan levels in your brain, which in turn hampers serotonin production. It may also reduce levels of omega-3 fatty acids (the fat linked to lower rates of depression). So instead of having a cocktail to relieve a blue mood, take a walk or pop in a funny video. Laughing can give you an instant natural high, just like exercising.
31. Up your iron intake.
Low iron levels go hand in hand with fatigue in women, and fatigue is sometimes the underlying cause of blue moods. To ensure you’re getting 15 to 25 mg of iron a day, cook in cast-iron pots; don’t drink caffeine with meals (it interferes with iron absorption); eat more extra-lean meat, legumes, tofu, green, leafy, veggies and prune juice. If you take a supplement, make sure it’s got at least 18 mg of iron. Still tired a lot? Ask your doctor for a serum ferritin test. If your levels are below 20 micrograms per liter, your doctor may suggest a prescription supplement.