JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

How to fuel a better mood

Date
Healthier equals happier ... exercise and a healthy diet can help regulate mood.

Healthier equals happier ... exercise and a healthy diet can help regulate mood.

There's no argument that the right food and exercise help keep our bodies in good nick, but do they matter for our mental health too?

Last month Spanish researchers put the food-mood link on the table again with a study of 8964 people that found that those eating the most junk -  meaning commercial baked goods like croissants and doughnuts, and fast food like burgers and pizza - were more likely to be depressed than those who ate little or none. It's one of a few studies now suggesting that too much over-processed food could be bad for our mood, while a more Mediterranean-style menu with fish, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil and grains may improve it. Still, it's hard to know what comes first - does eating junk contribute to a low mood, or do we eat junk because we're feeling bad?

But if croissants get the thumbs down for mental health, weight loss approaches emphasising low-carb, high-protein diets aren't helpful either - they can affect levels of the feel good hormone serotonin, says Tara Diversi, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.  Diversi, who has a special interest in both mental health and sports nutrition, will challenge the high protein message – popular with some personal trainers - when she speaks at the fitness industry's annual convention, FILEX, in Sydney next weekend.

"Depression can be an issue for some people who are trying to lose weight, but promoting diets low in carbohydrates and high in protein may lower their mood even more," she says. "Increasing protein in the diet reduces the availability of an amino acid called tryptophan which is important for making serotonin."

As for keeping blood sugar levels steady – another mood stabiliser - regular meals combining both protein and healthy carbs like whole grains are also important, she says.

Although there's a lot to learn about nutrients that might protect mental health, the key players so far are omega 3- fatty acids found mainly in fish, antioxidants – from food, not supplements, Diversi emphasises – and the B vitamin folate found in leafy vegetables, avocado, legumes and liver.

"Like vitamin C, folate can be unstable in food – when vegetables are getting old, for instance, or in cooking or reheating. On top of that folate can be depleted by alcohol and the contraceptive pill," she says. "I always suggest including fresh, uncooked leafy vegetables every day."

As for exercise, it deserves a higher profile as a mood disorders treatment and should be in the mental health toolkit, along with prescribed drugs, psychotherapy and food, says exercise therapist, Lisa Champion. But when it comes to persuading people to exercise for a better mood, she favours a gentle approach – a message that she's emphasising to the fitness industry at the same convention.

"If you're someone who just wishes they could pull the doona over their head, you don't need some fitness instructor bouncing in like the energizer bunny, saying 'let's do boot camp'," says Champion, the executive director of Fit for Good, the fitness industry's charity that makes fitness training available to people in need. "For anyone with a mood disorder the idea of committing to regular gym sessions may be daunting.  Instead we need more awareness that if you're feeling down, a walk, swim or bike ride can help shift your mood. We know you don't have to exercise at an intense level to get benefits for mental health so it shouldn't be seen as having to be strenuous."

What exercise is best for improving mood?

"So far it looks like anything that involves moving at moderate exertion. That means that if you use a perceived exertion scale where 1 equals standing still and 10 equals exercising so hard that you can't go on, you should aim to walk at a pace that's around 5 to 8," Champion says.

Exercise may also work as an antidote to panic attacks.

"Anxiety and exercise are both stressors and have similar effects – both can increase the heart rate and make you break out in a sweat. But exercise is a form of stress that's planned and there's now some evidence that exercise can train you to better tolerate the symptoms of anxiety and help decrease the frequency of panic attacks."

Do you think food and exercise make a difference to mental wellbeing?

37 comments so far

  • "Increasing protein in the diet reduces the availability of an amino acid called tryptophan which is important for making serotonin."

    Psychiatric pseudoscience. The serotonin deficiency theory of depression is regarded as scientific garbage by countless biologists, psychiatrists and doctors.

    And tryptophan isn't something humans want a whole lot of:

    http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/tryptophan-serotonin-aging.shtml

    "healthy carbs like whole grains are also important"

    Oh god. Please somebody revoke this woman's license.

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/04/can-eating-this-common-grain-cause-psychiatric-problems.aspx

    Commenter
    Jeff
    Date and time
    April 24, 2012, 9:42PM
    • Jeff, you criticise this as psuedoscience but then quote conspiracy theorists and widely discredited doctors. I'll back Paula on this one.

      Commenter
      MattyC
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 1:06PM
    • Thank you, Jeff. I really like getting some alternative points of view.

      I'm in my sixties and I've been interested in food and nutrition all my life. What I notice most is that there are just as many fads in mainstream nutrition as there are in alternative nutrition.

      I can remember when mainstream doctors and nutritionists recommended low-carb diets -- and when they switched to high-carb diets. I can also remember mainstream medicines that have been discredited (hey, I was a thalidomide baby!), as well as alternative supplements (does anyone still take lecithin?).

      There's always something new, and there's always somebody who makes money from it.

      These days I believe -- try it out, figure out what works best for you.

      And the only -- and I mean absolutely the ONLY -- advice that has stayed constant through my life is: eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. I certainly feel better when I do.

      Commenter
      Pensioner
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 4:28PM
    • MattyC: Bang on.

      I've noticed Jeff's kind of attitude increasing lately. Where cranks announce authoritatively that a mainstream view is 'pseudoscience' and reference websites of no merit to support their claim.

      I've put this down to a kind of intellectual "Cargo Cult", where they've seen previous arguments being won by people using authoritative statements and referencing reputable data.

      Commenter
      Hooray Henry
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 8:21AM
    • Sorry, but I don't take too much notice of anyone who cites Mercola as an authority. He's not even a medical doctor. Whilst he's come up with some valid points over the years, he's primarily a master of self-promotion, internet marketing and hysteria. He's no better than the institutions, processes and companies he maligns.

      Commenter
      Jess
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 10:19AM
  • Let's interview bodybuilders, elite sports athletes and sports people. We'll have our answers.

    Commenter
    Not_A_Normal_Man
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 9:54AM
    • Lets interview elderly happy people instead! I'm not about to become an elite sports person, but I'd like to eventually become an elderly, happy person (with all my wits, if it's not too much to hope for).

      Commenter
      Lel
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 12:02PM
  • Could we please have some quality peer-reviewed science here? This poor article is composed of conjecture and "expert" self-promotion, in no way a substitute for facts. Or merely an excuse for an attractive image. This article is more lowbrow than the Hun and does not belong in TheAge/SMH. Up your game, Fairfax.

    Commenter
    Fact-lite
    Location
    Doncaster
    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 10:15AM
    • It can take a long time to realise the benefits of exercise on mental health, but once you do - it's very powerful. I was diagnosed with depression about 4 years ago and have been on anti-depressants since, which stabilized me but there are still ups and downs.

      Not until recently have I finally listened to my psychiatrist and really started taking exercise seriously, making it an everyday part of my life as is brushing one's teeth.

      I always viewed exercise as a means to my perfect body, and so always associated weight loss with it - now however I see it as the other half of my antidepressant, and soon I hope it will actually take over from them.

      Exercise is the hidden key to helping people with depression but it does need to be initiated gently (ie. not "if you just got up and went for a walk/jog you'd feel better!). Lead by example, and remember it can be very difficult for anyone battling the black dog to realise what exercise will do for them until they slowly do it.

      It took me 4 years....

      By the way Fit for Good is an awesome charity - so important. Good on them.

      Commenter
      Joanne
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 10:25AM
      • I totally agree.

        I was depressed for a long time. I saw psychiatrists and was on antidepresants for years. The benefits were marginal at best.

        Then I took up competitive running. It was a revelation. I began to feel GOOD! Within a year or so I was off the antidepressants. That was years ago now.

        If you suffer depression/anxiety please try exercise!

        Commenter
        John
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 4:51PM

    More comments

    Make a comment

    You are logged in as [Logout]

    All information entered below may be published.

    Error: Please enter your screen name.

    Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

    Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

    Error: Please enter your comment.

    Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

    Post to

    You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

    Thank you

    Your comment has been submitted for approval.

    Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

    Featured advertisers

    Horoscopes

    Capricorn horoscope

    Trust others to think for themselves. Don't be snobbish about what seems obvious. Everyone learns at their own pace, including you.

    ...find out more here