Blond woman lying in field

Some 3 million Americans have a mild form of depression called dysthymia. And recent research suggests that they may benefit more from lifestyle changes than from medication. So, too, will the vast majority of folks who have occasional doldrums. The best remedies for mild sadness? Happy actions, not happy pills.
Orlando Sentinel

Exercise

Recent studies have shown that making one or more lifestyle changes can have a strong positive effect on our moods. For instance, Henry Emmons, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota, states, “If you look at the research on exercise for depression, it’s equal to or better than medication for depression — probably the best outright alternative treatment for depression.”

Also consider this conclusion from a 2008 German study reported in Cerebral Cortex: using a combination of PET scans and chemicals, the study definitely proved that running does release endorphins, those “good feeling” hormones that are the big deal in “runner’s high.” The study showed that the more endorphins were released, the greater the positive effect on mood.

In short, exercise can definitely exert a positive influence on mood. A study published in the January 2005 American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that three hours of moderate exercise weekly is probably sufficient to achieve a mood boost.

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Other Lifestyle Changes to Consider
In addition to exercise, there are many other lifestyle changes to consider, some small and some more major. Of course, we have already discussed food and diet plus supplements as ways to achieve good moods. Now you can add exercise to the list.

But what other lifestyle changes might you consider to improve your mood? Below are some suggestions from leading researchers and doctors.

Get Enough Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 60% of American women fail to get a good night's sleep except for a few days per week. As a result, more than half of these women reported feeling unhappy, depressed, or sad in the previous month, plus one-third said they felt hopeless about the future. Further research indicates that sleep deprivation interferes with the body's production of serotonin, one of the "feel good" hormones. No doubt sleep and mood are connected at a very deep level.

Experts suggest the following to get enough sleep to keep your good mood going all day long:

  • Sleep at least 7 to 8 hours nightly
  • Wake up without an alarm if possible
  • Practice a regular sleep schedule (for instance, go to bed within the same half-hour period nightly if possible)
  • Relax in the evenings, which means unplugging from email and other work-related activities

Take Up a Calming Practice
With modern life being an exercise in frenzied scheduling, many experts recommend that people engage in some kind of restful practice as a way to slow down, rest, and rejuvenate. Whether you prefer to meditate, simply breathe deeply for 10 minutes, do tai chi or yoga, or journal, having a regular calming practice you engage with on a daily basis can do a lot for your mood.

Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, points out that there are a wide range of calming practices from which to choose, from secular to religious. In one study, participants meditated regularly for six weeks and, as a result, showed less emotional distress when placed in stressful situations.

Another study by the University of Wisconsin showed that people who received eight weeks of meditation had increased electrical activity in the left frontal lobe--an area that is usually more active in people with an optimistic attitude.

Enjoy Some Tunes

According to Robert Thayer, professor of psychology at California State University, his own research demonstrates that listening to music was a very effective way to "turn around a bad mood." In fact, Thayer found grooving to tunes almost as effective as exercise to support good moods.

Talk to Someone
Whether you lean on a strong support network of friends and family, or you seek help from a professional therapist or counselor, talking to someone about feeling down can have a positive uplifting effect. Says Jerome Wakefield, psychology researcher at New York University, studies have shown that a specific type of therapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy, works as well as medication for alleviating sadness and other low moods.

Get Some Sunshine
If you read our section on supplements that support good moods, then you know that vitamin D plays a major role in producing and maintaining good moods. Sunshine is one of the best sources of this vitamin. Sunshine also has the effect of increasing our body's production of serotonin levels, so that more of that "feel good" hormone circulates through our bodies, boosting our mood.

Pick a Lifestyle Change, or Pick 'Em All!
As you can see, none of these lifestyle changes requires turning your life upside down. In fact, if you can handle only a single small lifestyle change, go for it. Research shows that introducing one small healthy change into your lifestyle--and consistently practicing that healthy habit--is more effective than trying to introduce multiple new healthy habits but practicing those habits inconsistently.

So scan through the above list of healthy habits and see which ones strike your fancy. Start small by choosing just one or two lifestyle changes, and try integrating those into your life. Remember, too, that eating good mood foods and adding mood-supporting supplements into your daily regimen are other forms of lifestyle changes that work really well. With so many choices to choose from, there is bound to be at least one lifestyle change that catches your attention and says, "Pick me! You can do this!"

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Not sure what might work for you? Consider getting a free "Good Mood Consultation." We would be happy to help you assess the "goodmood" factors in your life, assess your lifestyle, and make simple recommendations specifically for you. Just fill out the form on our Free Assessment page and we will get back to you in a timely manner!