Serotonin levels in your brain are responsible for regulating mood, sexual function, appetite, social behavior and sleep. If your serotonin levels are low, you could experience depression, anxiety and insomnia, as well as dysfunctions in many other areas of your life. Exercise is one way to stimulate your brain’s production of serotonin levels. Here’s how exercise affects your serotonin levels.
Serotonin and Its Function in Your Body
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, sleep cycles, sexual function and even social behavior. If you don’t have enough serotonin in your brain, you’re likely to be at high risk for depression, anxiety and insomnia.
A number of foods, especially those high in the amino acid tryptophan, can help increase your serotonin levels. Exposure to sunlight and exercise can also increase serotonin levels.
Exercise also increases your brain levels of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating our needs and desires. Norepinephrine levels increase proportionally with serotonin levels during exercise, so that as we experience an increased ability to feel desire, we also experience an increased ability to control our impulses and behave in socially acceptable ways.
Antidepressants and Serotonin
Antidepressant drugs have long been used to raise serotonin levels in the brains of those who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. However, antidepressant drugs have dangerous side effects and aren’t intended for long term use. Raise your serotonin levels naturally to combat anxiety and depression.
How Exercise Affects Your Serotonin Levels
Scientific research has proven that exercise increases serotonin production in your brain, where it can help regulate mood and other physical functions. Physical activity causes your neurons to fire faster, stimulating your brain to create and release higher levels of serotonin. Scientists also know that regular aerobic exercise increases your brain’s access to the amino acid tryptophan, from which it synthesizes serotonin. Scientists don’t yet understand why regular aerobic exercise has this effect on your brain, however.
After exercise, serotonin levels remain elevated in the brain for days. Regular aerobic exercise can help keep serotonin levels in the brain permanently elevated. This can relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia.
How You Can Raise Your Serotonin Levels
You can raise your own serotonin levels through regular moderate aerobic exercise, a healthy diet that is high in sources of tryptophan, and plenty of exposure to sunlight. Aerobic exercises increase serotonin levels more effectively than do exercises such as yoga and Pilates, which do have stress management benefits but don’t increase serotonin levels as much as aerobic exercise. Eat a diet that is high in lean meat proteins, especially chicken and turkey, and try a daily fish oil supplement to increase blood levels of the amino acid tryptophan, from which your brain manufactures serotonin.
Ideally, you’ll need to raise your heart rate for 30 minutes every day in order to achieve consistently higher serontonin levels on a long term basis. You don’t need to perform these 30 minutes of exercise all at once, however. You can split them up into two groups of 15 minutes or three groups of 10 minutes if you’re short on time.