At RecoveryNOW, we’ve deemed this month ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Month’ in an effort to raise awareness about the effects of physical wellness on mental health. The two are closely intertwined, which is why there are so many people who struggle with co-occurring mental health and physical abuse disorders. In this first post, we want to spotlight the importance of diet and exercise in promoting a healthy mind, as well as what steps you can take to promote positive physical and mental wellness.
Many people choose foods with their figures in mind, but it is less common to develop eating patterns based on how it affects mood, energy and mental health. As good as it may taste, food’s ultimate purpose is to serve as fuel for the body – including the brain. In the same way nutrient-dense foods produce a nourished mind, toxic foods set the grounds for an unstable mind.
Most convenience foods, such as those that are pre-packaged or purchased in fast-food restaurants, are highly processed and devoid of healthy ingredients. Two in particular – refined sugar and carbohydrates – rob the body of energy and contribute to serious health conditions, such as weight gain and diabetes. Consumed in large quantities, they also significantly increase the risk of developing depression.
While it may be easy to forgo healthy food choices in favor of those that taste better or are more convenient, it is important to choose a diet based on whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Consuming three balanced meals a day and drinking plenty of water will not only improve appearance, but is can also reduce a person’s risk of depression by as much 30 percent.
Vitamins and Nutrients
A balanced diet will contain many of the vitamins and nutrients necessary for optimal mental health. However, some foods are richer in mind-nourishing nutrients than others. Leafy greens, for example, are high in folate, which has been linked to a lower risk of depression. Similarly, salmon and other oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to improve the symptoms of ADHD and stabilize mood in people with depression.
Perhaps the most notable vitamin associated with depression risk is vitamin D, a nutrient primarily derived from sun exposure rather than food. Studies have shown that depression is less common in people with high vitamin D levels as opposed to people with low vitamin D levels, who are more prone to seasonal affective disorder. It is easy to raise vitamin D levels by spending just a half hour in the sun three times per week. Note that people with fair skin may require far less exposure to achieve healthy vitamin D levels.
Many people hit the gym to shed a few pounds or improve cardiovascular health, but exercise benefits more than just your body. In fact, exercise is one of the most powerful tools available for boosting mental wellness. Best of all, it is completely natural and 100 percent free.
There are several ways exercise improves mental health. The first is by reducing stress, which is a major trigger for many different mental health disorders. People who exercise have higher concentrations of norepinephrine, which is responsible for regulating the brain’s response to stress. Furthermore, exercise can also boost endorphine levels, creating a sense of happiness and improving overall mood. It is these feelings that are responsible for ‘runner’s high’, a sensation many people report feeling after clocking a few quick miles on the pedometer.
It is important to note that all of these ‘feel good’ chemicals do more than just create a temporary sense of euphoria. Scientists have also proven they are capable of helping people prone to anxiety avoid experiencing symptoms. In fact, spending 20 minutes running a local trail is a greater stress-reliever than spending the same time in a warm bath. As an added bonus, exercise improves appearance, which can lead to improved self-confidence.
Implementing Better Diet and Exercise Habits into Your Lifestyle
Taking care of your body does not have to be expensive or time-consuming. Shop the outer perimeter of the grocery store or visit a local farmer’s market for fresh finds. Instead of spending money on a gym membership, try biking to work or walking to dinner with family or friends. Everyone has the right and access to a healthier body and a healthier mind.