Eating and running your way to the right decision
Do you ever wonder why sometimes a decision seems straightforward, but at other times takes hours of deliberation? Some simple lifestyle choices might help you solve your everyday dilemmas!
In your daily life, you face a chain of decisions. Just think about going out for dinner: You have to decide what restaurant to go to, whom to go with, what dish to eat…the list goes on. In these kind of situations, your goal is to maximize reward. I’m sure you recognize this process when ordering diner: Should you order your favourite dish right away, or should you explore the whole menu thoroughly before making your choice? In other words, you have to choose between exploiting a known source of reward and exploring alternative sources of reward.
How are we able to make these kind of choices in our daily lives? One influential line of research suggests that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine plays an important role in controlling the behaviour that leads up to a decision. Put simply, when norepinephrine levels in your brain are consistently high, you explore various options as possible sources of reward. On the other hand, at an intermediate level of norepinephrine, you target one suitable option, and exploit that source of reward.
Why is this mechanism interesting? The answer is that some of our lifestyle habits can have a profound effect on norepinephrine levels, and therefore might influence the way we make decisions. First off, it turns out that we can actually influence norepinephrine levels through our diet. Specifically, many common foods such as cheese, eggs, and spinach contain the amino acid L-Tyrosine, which is the biochemical precursor of norepinephrine. Consuming these foods with a high tyrosine level can raise norepinephrine levels in the brain. So, tailoring your diet to contain the right amount of tyrosine might help you reach the right decision.
You may have also experienced a boost in your ability to make decisions following a great workout. Interestingly, a number of studies in mice and rats indeed suggest that regular aerobic exercise influences norepinephrine levels in our brain. When rats exercised regularly on a treadmill, they had higher levels of the neuropeptide galanin than sedentary controls. The result of this increase in galanin was an overall decrease of norepinephrine levels in the brain. It seems that the excess stimulation that we put our body through during exercise has a dampening effect on norepinephrine release during everyday situations. So, the next time you feel indecisive, going out for a jog might be a great idea!
In sum, it seems that the simple lifestyle choices we make can influence our everyday decision-making behaviour. The next time you make a life-changing decision, take the time to go out for some good food and a nice jog.