Sunday, April 5, 2020

Moving your moods

"Thinker" on the mantel

Thanks to those who shared their experiences, in the comments section of my post about probiotic foods, and strategies for building healthy immunity. I especially liked the sound of Meg's, pro/prebiotic potato salad, because it contains apple-cider vinegar. I forgot to mention, apple-cider vinegar is another great, and easily accessible fermented food. It's something I've made in the past, and should do more of.

But what about your mood? How does that influence your gut microbiota? Like everything else in your body, it's all connected.

Each building block, makes Lego connect

Our body is comprised of many different building blocks. Each with the key to connect to something else. This study, demonstrates the relationship between neural, endocrine, immune and humoral networks, once again. It's a comprehensive read, requiring understanding of different sections of the brain. A brief exert though:

"Stress induces a physiological response which is mediated by the HPA axis. CRH is released from the hypothalamus and acts in the pituitary to signal the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which triggers the release of cortisol from the adrenal gland in humans (corticosterone in mice)."

Important to note [my bold] is how stress communicates the release of hormones, via the various networks available in the body. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, because it regulates various systems in the body, such as:

  • Blood pressure
  • Metabolism
  • Nerve response
  • Immune response

My introduction to balancing hormones 

Cortisol was first brought to my attention, for causing insulin resistance. I learned of it's ability to suppress the digestive system, and immune response, much later. It's designed to shut down these functions, temporarily - diverting glucose to muscles, in case speed is required for survival. Should chronic stress enter your life however, the effects of cortisol become prolonged. Causing those vital connections to be impaired for longer. The perfect opportunity for a biological infestation.

Therefore, if mood affects stress hormone production, what we need are strategies for a balanced release of those hormones. A place to start, is evaluating three interconnected categories, spanning daily life:

  • Environmental
  • Psychological &
  • Biological

Even though they're different categories, they often share the same evaluation process, and solutions.

What can you see, that needs changing?

Environmental, psychological and biological elements, directly influence one another. For example, what are the environmental interactions with people, technology, infrastructure or even nature, that cause individuals to navigate different emotions? We're all going to have different responses, which either feeds back into our biology through positive energy, or create blockages, through negative.

Usually it's the environmental and psychological, directly effecting the biology in our body. Leaving it at the mercy of whatever stresses are engaged, daily. However, there is a way to get our biology to lead on the front-foot - influencing the other two. It mimics the release of cortisol, because it engages the very mechanism it was designed for - movement.

Audio equipment at the ready

Different kinds of movement (or exercise) have always emphasised weight-loss, as the main draw-card. Causing society to have a one-dimensional perception of movement. On my radar however, exercise has greater influence, developing mental well-being. Which controls how your metabolism, stores fat in the first place. If you want benefits through movement, put the horse before the cart. Or the cortisol before the fat.

The best form of movement, is what you will commit to every day. For some it is walking, others feel energised by visiting the gym. What I look forward to in my daily exercise, is listening to music. I ride a stationary bike or elliptical trainer for 30 minutes at night, with my headphones on. It takes the edge off a stressful day - releasing endorphins.

What music + movement does, is stimulate different sections of the brain, creating that balance in hormone release. The same sequence can be generated through dancing, or aerobics too. So evaluate what you love doing with movement, and not just performing the movement.

Elliptical trainer

There is a specific form of exercise, however, which deliberately mimics the release of cortisol. High intensity training (or HIT) follows the same stress and release pattern. For example, I use my stationary bike for 5 minutes, at normal pace. Then sprint for 1 minute. Repeat. This helps regulate blood sugar better, by reducing insulin resistance. It also improves metabolism. Since using HIT, instead of just cycling, I've reduced time on the machine from 1 hour to 30 minutes. Without losing benefits. 

Sometimes I use 5kg hand weights, for 10 minutes, afterwards. This aids in regulating blood sugar levels, overnight too. Reducing the chance of hypoglycemia. But it also strengthen muscles, which naturally decline through the aging process. The point I wish to clarify though, is the overwhelming benefit of cortisol in helping our bodies move. It only becomes detrimental when it doesn't follow the normal, self-regulating pattern, to switch off.

By making movement a part of our daily routine however, we get to lead with a balanced release of cortisol. Rather than having cortisol led by environmental and psychological factors, which are sometimes out of our control - and don't always switch off, in a timely enough manner.

Oil infuser, also benefits the plants

When it comes to strategies for the immune compromised, in a pandemic situation like today - the worst approach is to lead with stress. Use movement instead, and engage your other senses. This will trigger different parts of the brain, to release a range of your natural hormones. So cortisol won't get stuck in control, of what needs to arm your full compliment of immune defenses.

If you do get a viral infection, try not to actively stress either. Remedy with drinking warm, healthy beverages (like bone broth or miso soup) wear clothes which don't restrict, snuggle up to fluffy things, listen to music, use soft lighting and an infuser for aromatic smells, stroke a pet if you have one or hold someone's hand. What immune response you have, will be fully engaged, at a time you need the most.

The old war-time saying: "Keep Calm and Carry On", is about motivational movement. Or a way to continue without emotional burdens. "Keep Calm and Release Endorphins", may be more poignant for the situation we find ourselves in today. Because it's biological warfare, which can be fought through laughter, comfort, contentment and gratitude. As important as probiotics are to the gut, so is our mental well-being to our biology. It's all connected.

What helps release endorphins in your daily routine?


  1. Hi Chris,

    Thank you so much for this post.

    I needed to read this as I am a stress head. My immune system is vulnerable at the moment as a recent blood test showed a problem with my immunity. I have done a bit of research and realised that it may be my stomach acid problem contributing to the immunity issues. And I guess my stomach issue may be related to stress! I have suffered anxiety and stress my whole life and this year was the year I was going to get on top of it...then BOOM, the corona virus hit Australia! I feel more calmer now than I was earlier, I have stockpiled items to assist with isolation and keeping away from shops.

    I am walking four kilometres almost everyday, eating healthy and spending a lot of time in my garden for stress relief. I am in the midst of setting up more veggie beds to grow more food. After this virus event, I hope to be a lot more self sufficient than I have been previously.

    After reading your post I understand a lot more about how stress affects the body, and therefore make some adjustments.

    Take care and stay well,

    1. I'm glad it's helped you out Tania. I know in the past, stress has gotten the better of me too! So you're not alone in that. Sounds like you've got a great routine for exercise. I used to love walking, and then we moved to a location with slopes. So I improvised with other exercise. I still walk, just not daily, like I use to.

      It's understandable people got spooked with the coronavirus, as no-one was expecting what it would do to every day life. A reminder though, to have our house in order (as the saying goes). And our gardens too. You were always a good grower of backyard veg, but I'm sure you will surprise me again, with how much you turn out soon. Thank goodness you got that shaded area finished, and the new water tanks installed. :)

  2. Chris, I am trying to get motivated to walk every day and have also been spending time in the garden when it isn't too hot. I try not to stress over something that I can't control and have become much better at that as I get older. You sound like you have that diabetes well under control. Have a great week and enjoy your garden now that it is cooling down this week. Up here on the hill anyway 😀

    1. I envy the footpaths in Toowoomba Chel. So much space to get outdoors and just walk. No having to share the road with cars, or walking on grass - just footpaths that go on forever! I imagine they might be a little busier nowadays though, with people needing to get out of the house. When I lived in town, I always enjoyed looking at people's gardens on my morning or afternoon walks.

      Last night, was the first it actually got chilly here. I wore my ugg-boots this morning. So it looks like we've finally turned the corner to winter. After the inferno that was last summer, I'm sure we're all looking forward to it. Stay warm on the hill, Chel. :)

  3. I've known there is a connection between stress and compromised immune response, so I'm very glad you provided such a good explanation. Also the how and why of dealing with it! Very useful information, Thanks, Chris!

    1. You're welcome Leigh. It's a challenge how stress weaves itself into our lives, and has such a large impact. Having routines helps us get on top of it. As life can be so busy sometimes, we forget the things we must do, to stay well.

  4. Have you read Robert Sapolsky's book 'Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers'? It's a great read about stress and the immune system and all its workings. He has quite a few videos on the Net as well. We've turned the corner to winter here, as well. Temps in the teens and a month's worth of rain in the first week. At least I can stop worrying about bushfire for a while.

    1. Thanks for that book recommendation Bev. I'll see if our online library, has a copy. Sounds interesting, as you would think if any critter was going to get ulcers, it would be the poor Zebra - being hunted every day! Hasn't gotten down to teens for us just yet, but we'll soon catch up, I'm sure. :)


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I love reading what you have to share. Gully Grove is a Spam free environment though, so new commenter’s only leaving hyperlinks, will be promptly composted.