Serotonin, the happy hormone, plays an important role in your mood, a good reason to keep your serotonin levels up. According to "Dropping Serotonin Levels: Why You Crave Carbs Late In the Day," by Judith J. Wurtman, Ph.D., serotonin levels are generally lower in the mid-afternoon, from approximately 4 to 6 o'clock. Although this is the time of day that a good mood is a valuable asset, it is also a stressful time of day as many individuals are getting off from work and navigating traffic, school children are transitioning home and stay-at-home parents are tying up loose ends before dinner preparation. This can be one of the best times of day to incorporate exercise into your schedule.
The Fab Four for Serotonin
In "How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs," Simon N. Young discusses the four factors influencing serotonin production: meditation, bright light, exercise and diet. Young recommends aerobic exercise at a familiar level. Judd Handler, in "How to Increase Serotonin," suggests 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five to seven times each week. It's okay to break your exercise up into three 10-minute segments, which yields the same results, says Handler.
The Synergy of Serotonin
Tryptophan -- an amino acid -- and serotonin work hand-in-hand to regulate mood, appetite and sleep. Tryptophan, available through food sources, is a precursor to serotonin production. Exercise increases the release of plasma tryptophan into the brain, which is synthesized into serotonin. An increase in available tryptophan levels remains for some time after exercise. Unless you exercise before your evening meal, your tryptophan levels can be low, which makes you feel hungry. This can be a good time to get in a 10- to 30-minute exercise session to curb your appetite and get you through the hump.
Free Up Frazzled Nerves
One of the best times to exercise is when you are in a bad mood. If you have one of those times when you just don't know what's wrong, you probably have low serotonin levels. This is a good time to do some aerobic exercise and increase your serotonin. Women are more susceptible than men to depression, according to "Serotonin, Genetic Variability, Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders" by Niklaus Nordquist and Lars Oreland, and men are more likely to be impulsive with low serotonin levels. When unexpected events or stress pile-up leaves you feeling frazzled, or you just don't feel like yourself, this is a good time to get your exercise groove on and lighten up.
Beat the Winter Blues
Bright light increases serotonin levels. Perhaps the mood-elevating properties of light gave sunshine its reputation for being happy. Unfortunately, individuals who work indoors don't always get the recommended 15 to 20 minutes of bright light daily. Furthermore, short winter days with reduced light correlate with decreased serotonin levels, a probable cause of the winter blahs. One of the best times to exercise to increase serotonin levels is during the wintertime, to overcome the effects of reduced environmental light.
- Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience: How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs
- Medical News Today: What is Serotonin? What Does Serotonin Do?
- Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences: Serotonin, Genetic Variability, Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders
- Mother Nature Network: How to Increase Serotonin
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.