Better Moods Linked to Diet, Exercise and Summer! Interview with:

Lina Begdache, PhD, RDN, CDN, CNS-S, FAND Assistant Professor Health and Wellness Studies Department GW 15 Decker School of Nursing  Binghamton University

Dr. Begdache

Lina Begdache, PhD, RDN, CDN, CNS-S, FAND
Assistant Professor
Health and Wellness Studies Department GW 15
Decker School of Nursing
Binghamton University What is the background for this study?

Response: My research focuses on understanding the link between the modifiable risk factors (such as diet, sleep and exercise) and mental distress. In this study, adults of different age-groups (18 years and older) were followed for 4 weeks.  Participants recorded their dietary intake, sleep quality, exercise frequency, their physical and mental wellbeing on a daily basis.

Another research interest of mine is to assess these factors in relation to sex (different brain morphology) and age-groups (based on brain maturity). The rationale of this categorization is that brain morphology and brain development vs maintenance and repair may require a different repertoire of food and environmental factors. Therefore, we also studied the sex and age-groups effect.

We also added the season factor as one of our previously published studies showed a link between season and mental distress. Data were collected for 2 years during the summer and fall seasons. What are the main findings?  Are people in year-round sunnier climates happier?

Response: The purpose of this study was to assess the dynamic relationships between daily diet quality scores, sleep, exercise and the effect of season on mental distress in young (18-29 years) and mature (30 years and older) men and women. Our results suggest that mental distress is the product of a mixture of these factors and that their association has dynamic characteristics.  For instance, an improvement in diet quality enhances mental well-being. A good sleep quality was associated with mental and overall wellbeing, as well as with higher diet quality and exercise frequency. We also found that diet quality, sleep, exercise frequency, physical and mental wellbeing produced higher scores in the summer when compared to the fall. Seasonal changes were associated with alterations in diet quality and mental wellbeing. When looking at sex and age groups, men and mature adults (30 years or older) had higher diet quality scores and lower mental distress scores than women and young adults, respectively. When taken all together, our results confirmed the hypothesis that risk factors for mental distress are dynamic. They also suggest that improving one factor may positively impact all others.

In other words, if it is hard to change lifestyle overnight, starting with improving one aspect (such as sleep, exercise or eating healthier) may eventually lead to an improvement in the other risk factors and eventually improve physical and mental wellbeing. Additionally, our results support the notion of personalizing therapies based on sex and age-groups.

As for the second part of the question, research has shown that sunnier climates associate with better mood, as the UV light produces wavelengths that favor the production of brain serotonin. However, the research is also indicating that disruption in the circadian rhythm may impact mood, therefore the length of day may also contribute to mental health ( ie, seasonal change). What should readers take away from your report?

Response: There are 2 main points to be taken.

1) To improve mood, people can work on improving these modifiable risk factors. If it is hard to change them all at once, they can start by improving one, which will make adjustments of other factors easier.

2) Improvement of mental wellbeing may require a personalized approach. According to our results, adjustments based on sex and age-groups may be necessary. Women tend to have a lower diet quality and higher risk for mental distress (we and others have reported this). So women may need to pay extra attention to their diet and to the other modifiable risk factors to improve mood. We also found that young adults have higher risk of mental distress and lower diet quality, which is a sword with a double edge. Due to the incomplete maturation of the prefrontal cortex, young adults have a lower ability to control emotions. A poor diet quality may impact the brain function and the quality of brain maturation, which may in return affect their emotional state. This is something crucial for practitioners to consider for a healthier brain and mental status. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: Obviously, there is a need to conduct a larger scale study to confirm these results. There is also a need for an interventional randomized cross-over study to further elucidate the dynamic and integrated functions of the diet, sleep patterns, exercise type and frequency, and the circadian rhythm in the development of mental distress . Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: When looking at the inter-individual differences, caffeine came out to be a positive predictor of mental distress. We and others have reported on this previously. Caffeine boosts mental status at low doses but may have a negative impact when largely consumed.  Caffeine consumption in adults is not limited to coffee anymore. It is in soda, energy drinks, tea, chocolate, and some weight loss pills.

The authors report no conflict of interest.  


“Dynamic associations between daily alternate healthy eating index, exercise, sleep, seasonal change and mental distress among young and mature men and women,” was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports. 

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Jun 22, 2021 @ 7:19 pm

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