As we move into 2021-- fatigued from wrestling intense change, challenges and emotions-- the idea of tackling lofty, radical resolutions seems out of place.  Instead, many intend to make small positive changes that improve overall health and boost positivity. 

Cultivating dopamine-boosting habits may answer 2021’s call for approachable holistic wellness resolutions.  The neurotransmitter dopamine triggers feelings of happiness and allows us to be more positive, engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive. And by simply choosing a resolution that taps into a dopamine lift, we increase our chances of sticking to our plan.  That’s because dopamine affects how the brain decides whether a goal is worth the effort. Those with higher dopamine levels are more likely to focus on the benefits and rewards of their efforts, while those with lower dopamine levels appear more focused on the perceived costs or difficulties. 

Here are five daily habits that can help raise dopamine levels:

1) Exercising 
Exercise raises baseline levels of dopamine by promoting the growth of new receptors. The good news is that studies show engaging in gentle forms of exercise, such as walking, yoga and tai chi, may be equal, and sometimes better for boosting dopamine than more strenuous or higher intensity activities.  Other research shows long, uninterrupted bouts of sitting corresponds with significantly lower levels of a key precursor of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, compared to participants who got up and moved for 3 minutes twice per hour.  

2) Eating a balanced diet
This translates into eating mostly minimally processed foods from all major food groups each day. More specifically, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, avocados and whole grains are good sources of the key nutrients (tyrosine, vitamin B6, vitamin B9, vitamin D, copper, zinc, magnesium and iron) required for the synthesis of dopamine.  Threonine found in teas and foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi and raw sauerkraut may also increase natural dopamine production.

3) Prioritizing sleep
Research has found that dopamine plays a bigger role in sleep regulation than previously thought, by discovering dopamine’s regulatory role in melatonin production—aka the sleep hormone responsible for healthy sleep and orienting our circadian rhythm. It also appears sleep deprivation, even one night, can result in a reduction of dopamine receptors.   

4) Practicing meditation
An abundance of research suggests mindfulness meditation may induce long-lasting benefits for brain health. Dopamine levels have been shown to surge by as much as 65 percent during meditations lasting an hour. The practice also appears to help balance brain chemicals, increase connectivity within and among brain regions, regulate stress responses and reduce inflammation. 

5) Making your downtime sacred
An overwhelming amount of empirical evidence shows that both physical health and mental health benefit when we carve out leisure time to do something constructive or fun. Dedicating time to reconnect with other areas of your life, such as spending quality time with friends and family and pursuing hobbies or creative projects, help replenish neurochemicals that plunge from hours of stressful work. 

Dopamine affects how brain decides whether a goal is worth the effort. (2020, April 07). Retrieved January 07, 2021.

González, S., et al. (2012). Circadian-Related Heteromerization of Adrenergic and Dopamine D4 Receptors Modulates Melatonin Synthesis and Release in the Pineal Gland. PLoS Biology, 10(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001347 

Kjaer, T. W., et al. (2002). Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Brain research. Cognitive brain research, 13(2), 255–259. 

Krach, S., et al. (2010). The rewarding nature of social interactions. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 4, 22. 

Lardone, A., et al. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study. Neural plasticity, 2018, 5340717. 

Pal, R., et al. (2014). Age-related changes in cardiovascular system, autonomic functions, and levels of BDNF of healthy active males: role of yogic practice. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 36(4), 9683. 

Wang, G. J., et al. (2000). PET studies of the effects of aerobic exercise on human striatal dopamine release. Journal of nuclear medicine : official publication, Society of Nuclear Medicine, 41(8), 1352–1356.

Wennberg, P., et al. (2016). Acute effects of breaking up prolonged sitting on fatigue and cognition: a pilot study. BMJ open, 6(2), e009630.

These materials are provided to you by Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s
Eat Well, Be Well Nutrition Outreach Program.
For more tips and information, please visit Eat Well, Be Well.

Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well Program

Blythedale Children's Hospital, through the generosity of Kohl’s Department Stores, is proud to offer Blythedale and Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well, an innovative outreach program designed to bring health and nutrition education to schools throughout Westchester and Putnam counties. Through this program, Blythedale staff members teach healthy eating habits to children by providing curricula, training and educational tools to school districts throughout the area. The program provides general nutrition guidelines to students, parents and school faculty. Blythedale Children's Hospital offers experts in nutrition and health-education to speak with local parenting groups, PTAs and school personnel.

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