Did you know that a poor diet and a lack of exercise could make you more susceptible to depression and other mental health problems?
Just as your emotions can affect your physical health, your physical health can affect your mental health. The mind-body connection is a two-way street.
Nutrition for mental wellbeing
It’s well documented that a variety of vitamins and nutrients have important roles to play in brain function and mental health, and poor nutrient may contribute to depression as well as other disorders. In fact, high doses of specific nutrients and changes in diet are now being used to successfully treat addictions, depression, stress, anxiety, autism and ADHD.
When it comes to nutrition for brain health, the advice is very similar to recommendations for overall health: Avoid refined and processed food like sugar and white flour, stay away from fried foods, and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Following a Mediterranean diet is probably the easiest way to accomplish this.
In addition, certain nutrients are especially important for mental health including:
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in certain fish, seeds and nuts
- B vitamins, especially B12 found in meat, fish and dairy food and folate (B9) found in many foods including vegetables, fruits, meats, beans and seeds.
- Zinc found in meats and seafood (especially oysters) dairy, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
Exercise improves mood
Regular exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve mood and memory, and help you sleep better–all important for maintaining good mental health. It’s also been used to successfully treat depression, anxiety, stress, ADHD, and PTSD.
One way exercise does this is by increasing levels of serotonin in the body, an important neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood. Exercise may increase other neurotransmitters (glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain that also play a role in preventing depression. According to a recent study people who worked out on a stationary bicycle had higher levels of these chemicals in their brains compared to a control group.
How much exercise is enough? Just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week can make positive changes. Walking, bike riding, dancing, or anything that increases your breathing and makes you sweat just a little all count. You can even break it into shorter sessions of 10-15 minutes multiple times a day.
And if you’re already experiencing low mood and lack of motivation, it’s OK to start slow and work up to it. The trick is to choose something you enjoy, pick a time of day when your energy is generally high and start moving.