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Surprising Mood Boosts for Athletes (or Anyone)

5 super-simple ways to rev up, feel better, and balance your mind and body.

Tips & Ideas Thursday, May 20, 2021

Transitioning between seasons can make any athlete feel a little blah or unmotivated; late spring can be especially hard for Nordic skiers, when our beloved mountain playgrounds are ankle-deep in mud, and summer's activities haven't fully kicked in yet.

So how to stay energized? These five easy, surprising tips will keep you humming and get you ready to tackle your summer fitness goals.

1. Strike a power pose.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy made news with her research on the power of the power pose—striking a hands-on-hips Superman stance can have amazing (and instant) mood and health benefits. The postures decrease cortisol, expand our body space and activate what psychologists call the behavioral approach system, which increases our feelings of strength and decreases feelings of fear.

2. Hop in a cold shower.

A freezing shower may not seem like the obvious pick me up, but that drastic temperature change fires the feel-good hormones in your brain. Endorphins can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and cold water may also decrease cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone.

Sports physical therapists have suggested that the cold temperatures can quickly relieve heat exertion and reduce inflammation, so muscles get a quick healing cool-down. How to get started? Try cool showers a few times a week, working up to colder temps. The colder and longer the shower, the more results you'll see.

3. Drop in or pick up a game.

Team sports not only give you a way to get your social on but the interaction, action, and distraction of playing a good game of touch football or beach volleyball help boost endorphins and distract from nagging thoughts and stress.

4. Take a bite of chocolate.

Dark chocolate is the best—70% or more cocoa solids for delivering a killer dose of health-promoting flavonoids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow to your brain, and boost brain health. All of these benefits can help support mood regulation. Bonus: chocolate has a high hedonic rating. The pleasure we derive from its taste, texture, and smell may also promote a good mood.

5. Get your D.

According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 41% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, most of which we get from sunlight. Even in sunny Colorado D deficiency can sneak up, because your skin needs to be exposed directly (without the barrier of sunscreen). Adequate levels of D help the synthesis of feel-good serotonin. Low D levels can lower your immune response and lead to fatigue and depression. The antidote? About 20 minutes of direct sunshine daily. (Note: Vitamin D levels must be tested by a medical practitioner; do not take any vitamin D supplements without a doctor's supervision.)

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