By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing Clinical Nutritionist.
Mental health is much more than a diagnosis. It’s your overall psychological well-being—the way you feel about yourself and others as well as your ability to manage your feelings and deal with everyday difficulties.
Exercise And Mental Health
Lifestyle modifications can assume especially great importance in individuals with serious mental illness. Many of these individuals are at a high risk of chronic diseases associated with sedentary behavior and medication side effects, including diabetes, hyper-lipidemia, and cardiovascular disease. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function (1).
Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal (2).
In a study, it is been shown that the patients with schizophrenia are already vulnerable to obesity and also because of the additional risk of weight gain associated with anti-psychotic treatment, especially with the atypical anti-psychotics. Patients suffering from schizophrenia who participated in a 3-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control and reported increased fitness levels, exercise tolerance, reduced blood pressure levels, increased perceived energy levels, and increased upper body and hand grip strength levels (3).
Thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.
Food and Mental Health
Knowing what foods we should and shouldn’t be eating can be really confusing, especially when it feels like the advice changes regularly. However, evidence suggests that as well as affecting our physical health, what we eat may also affect the way we feel.
Improving your diet may help to:
- Improve your mood
- Give you more energy
- Help you think more clearly.
Eating well_ well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients may be associated with feelings of well-being. One 2014 study found high levels of well-being were reported by individuals who ate more fruit and vegetables (4).
A recent study found that a Mediterranean-style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants, which was sustained six months after the intervention (5).
The importance of good nutritional intake at an early age is explored in multiple studies, including a systematic review in 2014, which found that a poor diet (with high levels of saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and processed food products) is linked to poorer mental health in children and adolescents (6).
Experience of a mental health problem may also be associated with poorer diet and physical health. There have been efforts to close the ‘mortality gap’ for people with severe mental health problems, who on average tend to die 10 to 25 years earlier than the general population (7).
The relationship between obesity and mental health problems is complex. Results from a 2010 systematic review found two-way associations between depression and obesity, finding that people who were obese had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time, whereas people experiencing depression had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese (8).
Tips To Keep Yourself Calm (9)
- Value Yourself: Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism
- Take Care Of Your Body: Eat nutritious meals, Avoid cigarettes and alcohol, Drink plenty of water, Exercise, which helps decrease depression and anxiety and improve moods, Get enough sleep.
- Surround Yourself With Good People: People with strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network.
- MeTime: Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need.
- Start Dealing With Stress: Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills; Remember to smile and see the humor in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body, and reduce stress.
- Calm Your Mind: Try meditating, Mindfulness, and/or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life.
- Set Realistic Goals: Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally, and write down the steps you need to realize your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule.
- Break The Monotony: Alter your jogging route, plan a road-trip, take a walk in a different park, hang some new pictures, or try a new restaurant.
- Avoid Alcohol And Other Drugs: Keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid other drugs.
- Get Help When You Need It: Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness. And it is important to remember that treatment is effective.