Q: Mr. Norris, a guy at the gym told me the other day that my depression could be originating from not drinking enough water. Any truth to that? — M., Loveland, Colo.
A: Last week, I started my New Year's series by highlighting four relational actions through which we can decrease depression and increase the happy meter in our lives, as well as in those of others. They were:
—Prioritize marriage and family over career and material success.
—Don't go it alone.
—Practice small acts of kindness.
—Belong to a faith community.
I encourage you to read the specifics of those steps if you missed the article on Christmas break.
This week, I want to highlight a few more moves we can make to expand the joy in our lives. And with New Year's resolutions on many minds, let me do so by showing the power of diet, exercise and drinking water on your mind and state of happiness.
Both vitamin deficiency and being overweight can cause depression.
For example, Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the New York Times best-sellers "Ultraprevention," "Ultrametabolism" and "The UltraSimple Diet," wrote in his latest stellar hit, "The UltraMind Solution": "Each nutrient has its role, but vitamin D deficiency is a major epidemic that is under the radar of most doctors and public health officials. It has been linked to depression, dementia, an increased risk of death, and even autism."
Hyman further explained that "overwhelming evidence links low folate, B-12, and B-6 levels to depression and mood disorders." And that is just the tip of the iceberg of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and body processes.
Moreover, being overweight is about more than looks; it is about health — mental, emotional and physical. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans who are overweight are at greater risk for depression, hypertension, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and bone), Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and even some cancers, such as those of the breast and colon.
In order to balance our moods, we must balance our diets and thus the chemistry in our minds and bodies, particularly the mind's feel-good chemicals (and natural pain and stress fighters) — for example, dopamine, endorphins and especially serotonin. If we eat well-balanced meals, we will not only increase the production of these chemicals but also simultaneously lose weight — all of which will decrease our depression and improve our moods.
Consuming certain foods, such as those rich in complex carbohydrates, helps produce serotonin. Foods with ample amounts of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, corn, rice, legumes, breads, pastas and cereals.
In addition, according to Dr. Judith Wurtman, author of "The Serotonin Power Diet," foods high in starch, such as the ones above, actually separate the amino acid tryptophan from other amino acids, sending the latter to muscle cells and leaving the former in the bloodstream to sedate the brain. Good sources of tryptophan include pumpkin seeds, eggs, turkey, chicken, milk and fish, as well as — in smaller amounts — peas and other legumes.
—Move your body.
I know you've heard this a thousand times, but it's true: Exercise is a cure for so many ills; depression is one of many. Exercise is so powerful on our mind that Men's Health calls it the drug-free depression cure.
Just two weeks ago, clinical psychologist Rob Dobrenski, author of "Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch," explained to Men's Health that sedentary behavior exacerbates depression. But including in your schedule moderate cardio three to five times a week will build up more than just the serotonin in your brain. "You'll get in better shape, have more self-esteem, and be more social," Dobrenski said.
I don't want to oversimplify exercise, but it is basically whatever gets your heart pumping and activates your major muscle groups. Physical employment, playing with your kids, walking your dogs, working in the yard, dancing, biking and hiking, as well as the host of other seasonal sports and activities, are all great options. (Make sure to check with your health practitioner about what exercise is best for you.)
Exercise produces additional endorphins, too. And sweating is also one way to rid your body of toxins, but just make sure you're hydrating properly to make up for your body's water loss when you exercise.
—Drink enough water.
I've documented in past articles how drinking insufficient amounts of water has been linked to a plethora of ills. One more affected area is negative thoughts and attitudes.
Tufts Journal documented the connection between dehydration and depression by showing how even mild dehydration in athletes led to bad moods and perhaps poorer cognitive performance.
The journal's article titled "Drink (Water) and Be Happy" noted, "A team of Tufts researchers studying the effects of mild dehydration on college athletes found that subjects who engaged in high-impact aerobic activities for 60 to 75 minutes without adequate hydration were more likely to report feeling fatigued, confused, angry, depressed or tense than those who engaged in similar activities and drank enough fluids."
Dehydration can be inhibiting your happiness, so make sure you are daily drinking an ample amount of non-contaminated and purified water. The equation to figure the recommended amount of water your body needs is this: Your weight divided by two equals the number of ounces of water you need to consume daily.
Thomas Fuller was right back in 1732. In his compilations of proverbs, "Gnomologia," he wrote, "We never know the worth of water till the well is dry."
An even greater truth is this Slovakian proverb: "Pure water is the world's first and foremost medicine."
(In Part 3, I will continue my "12 ways to live happier," with the goal of jump-starting your 2013 in a happier direction!)
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com.