The objective of this article is to explain to readers how to keep their Serotonin at optimum levels for the purpose of enjoying their lives to the fullest.
By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
Life as a Chemical Experience
Summary: Exercise has long been recommended for keeping the body fit. Many people have not yet realized that exercise also benefits mental health.
The combination of a good exercise program along with good life coping skills keeps anxiety down and Serotonin flowing in the brain. The result is a healthy mind, a healthy body, and a longer life with a better quality of living.
My own perspective is that life is a chemical experience. I believe that, unless we are actually born with a biochemical deficit, and some people are, we are born with adequate levels of the three brain chemicals, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Dopamine. These brain hormones are responsible for our being able to experience pleasure, remember pleasure, and expect pleasure (Serotonin), remain level in mood (Norepinephrine), and avoid depression as in Serotonin (Dopamine).
I also believe that the name of the game after we are born--starting with our first breath, is to make AND keep as much as possible.
In so doing we function most optimally throughout our lives.
Keeping these levels up keeps our Adrenalin down. It is the Adrenalin that makes us feel anxious. The anxiety causes the body to speed up, racing the heart and muddling our thinking. In fact, it is not illness that kills us, but anxiety that makes the illness.
The statistics show that 90% of all illness is stress related. The stress produces more Adrenalin which reacts negatively on the body and lowers the immune system. The illness follows. Therefore, keeping our brain hormones up and our Adrenalin down produces health and longevity. How do we do that?
First, we exercise. Inactivity can produce both physical and mental changes. Hypertension, Obesity, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, states of anxiety and depression are all related to this.
During exercise, Serotonin is produced in the brain as well as the other two brain hormones. This is why people report feeling better after exercise. In addition, exercise burns up sugar and also estrogen which is beneficial in preventing Diabetes and some female cancers.
Aerobic exercise increases the oxygen utilizing capacity of the body and promotes many positive changes in the cardiovascular system. Examples of such exercise are running, walking, skating, skiing, and rowing. Medical reports show that engaging in these activities on a regular basis lowers the risk of hardening of the arteries and plaque build-up.
This exercise also increases the good part of cholesterol (HDL) and decreases the plasma insulin level in the blood. Therefore, an increased work capacity develops.
There is evidence that the incidence of heart attacks is decreased with exercise. What is clear however, is that there is an increase in survival rate of people suffering from heart attacks if they are physically fit.
It is very important to receive medical clearance for any exercise program. There exists a small but increased risk of heart attack during vigorous exercise. I expect this occurs in individuals who have an undetected problem that makes the exercise trigger the attack. A blockage in an artery would be an example of this.
Exercise also burns calories and reduces appetite. People with a long history of hard physical work such as road laborers and farmers eat more and weigh less than people with more sedentary lifestyles.
Fad diets and starvation diets generally produce a loss of lean body tissue and water with less fatty tissue loss. The exercise is more pleasant than the diets--the combination of exercise and healthy eating habits as opposed to fad diets, promotes weight control that keeps the body fit both physically and mentally.
We are stating here that exercise is the first key to health. It keeps the Serotonin levels up. To keep them up we must exercise daily for at least an hour. Now we need to do things that "save" the Serotonin that the exercise is making.
It is important to avoid ingesting substances that burn up the brain hormones. At the top of this list is alcohol. The alcohol pushes the brain to produce ALL of its supply shortly after the first drink. Within an hour of that first drink, the brain has released all that it has and begins to go into deficit. People who drink more than one drink every four days can put themselves into a mild alcoholic depression. They would only notice the difference if they stopped drinking for at least a month to allow the brain to recover its hormone supply.
People who drink regularly report low energy, problems sleeping, anxiety (as the body agitates itself to replace the Serotonin that the alcohol ate up), and irritability. The latter is an alcoholic agitation brought on by the lack of Serotonin. This anxiety which produces the agitation is Adrenalin based which is the body's compensation for the now dry hormone state.
Drugs also adversely affect brain chemistry. Street drugs and prescribed drugs are culprits. Sleeping pills and tranquilizers are counterproductive to good brain chemistry.
In summary, exercise, avoiding alcohol, drugs, and also caffeine and nicotine are the steps thus far to keeping our brains functioning optimally.
There is a study which shows that physically fit and active individuals between the ages of sixty-three and seventy-eight years of age had better information processing than their unfit counterparts. Many studies have sown the forestalling of the aging process with exercise and healthy eating patterns.
The last phase of our "make and keep" Serotonin and the other two brain hormones package, is a healthy emotional life style. People who have trouble asking for what they want and setting limits are notorious for breeding internal anxiety. The anxiety, again, has a real basis and that is the production of Adrenalin. The Adrenalin is bad for the body.
It is important to know how to speak up for yourself in a polite and respectful way. There have been some women's cancers that have been linked to passivity. Uterine Cancer is one of these.
Sociability is another anxiety reducer in most people. It is important to be connected to others. Isolation tends to breed inactivity and withdrawal. Often we see spouses follow each other in death within short time periods. I submit that this is not a coincidence but a shutting down of the body of the surviving spouse who experiences marked increases of anxiety upon the death of their mate.
I think that it is safe to say that we all want to live long lives if we can feel good both mentally and physically. This article is a good recipe for doing so!