Fitness column: The happy chemicals that make a difference
Okay, I could have titled this better, it sounds pretty mundane, but bear with me.
I’m not talking any chemicals here, I’m talking about the four chemicals in your body that make you feel good – and who doesn’t want to feel good?
I want you to remember ‘DOSE’; Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins.
In this article I’m going to explain what each one is, share with you some hacks to get more of them, making you live a healthier and happier life. Sound good?
The reward hormone. Very important for focus and concentration. It helps you sleep too. (Sleep’s a massive factor in people with mental health issues. )
Dopamine is released after you achieve a goal, and even with small goals, you’ll get a hit of dopamine.
The more goals you achieve on a regular basis, the neural pathways in your brain actually get stronger.
The more regularly you set and achieve goals, the hit of dopamine will become stronger.
So the trick is to set yourself very small, achievable goals every day and actually achieve them for regular hits of dopamine. Even writing in your journal every morning ‘make bed, eat breakfast, brush teeth’ and then physically ticking those off will have a massive effect on your levels of dopamine.
Oxytocin is the love hormone. It increases empathetic feelings and also builds trust.
The obvious way of getting more of this is sex, but the not-so-obvious ways are even holding hands, cuddling and physical touch.
Things like doing yoga, listening to music and meditating also boost levels of oxytocin.
My favourite, though, is petting a dog. So the next time you want to increase oxytocin, find the softest Labrador you can see, and pat it until you feel the love (extra oxytocin points for doing it with your headphones in, on a yoga mat).
Known to help stabilise moods, regulate feelings of well-being and happiness, regulate anxiety and control sleep.
Serotonin can be increased by just being outside in broad daylight.
Bright light is a standard treatment for seasonal depression, but don’t forget that 90% of serotonin is formed in your gut.
So, if you have a healthy gut, you’ll have loads of serotonin – which also makes the fact that if you’re hungry, you can get angrier. Now you have an excuse.
Before you think that you’re just always down, or even think about mentioning the D word (depression), think: ‘Do I constantly sat in my dark bedroom playing video games and living off Wotsits and chicken nuggets?’ If that hits home, it’s time to mix things up.
Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers. They also regulate the body’s fight or flight instinct.
The obvious example for producing more endorphins is exercise (the more vigorous the exercise the more endorphins), but they can be produced in many ways. For example, doing something you find scary will flood your body with endorphins. Even something as simple as watching a scary movie can increase your body’s endorphins. But another favourite of mine is eating spicy food. So tonight watch a scary movie and eat a spicy curry – and you’ll be happy.
If you focus on improving even one of these happy chemicals, I’m pretty confident your life will improve for the better.
If I were to try to recap the whole piece in just one sentence, I would say: ‘Get outside regularly, eat your vegetables, set small and regular goals and make sure you pet dogs.’
Doesn’t sound that hard does it?