About one in three people with a long-term physical health problem also have a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety. Depression can cause headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems, with anxiety resulting in stomach issues. Both can cause insomnia, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. But you can improve your mental and physical health simultaneously. During Mental Health Awareness month we focus a lot on understanding and bringing awareness to mental health concerns. Learning about mental illness, coping skills, and mindfulness are all key elements of understanding and bettering your mental health but there is one area you may not be focusing on that can delay your growth. The area that some tend to forget about is the connection between mental health and physical health. What you eat, how you move your body, and various other aspects of physical health can play a major role in how your mental health is.
Physical fitness and the way you move your body are extremely influential on mental health. Beyond the obvious physical benefits you gain from regular physical activity, exercise is proven to improve your mental health by lowering levels of depression and anxiety.
- Yoga—Yoga helps with relaxation and eases stress. According to the American Psychological Association, yoga is recommended for anyone with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
- Cycling—Studies show that for those with schizophrenia, cycling helps keep the white matter in the brain healthy, allowing brain function to improve.
- Running—Running can help control manic symptoms in those with bipolar disorder, providing a calming effect that helps mood regulation.
- Boxing—This helps release stress and anger. Boxing releases endorphins that boost your mood.
Equally as important as exercise, is what you are feeding your body. According to the American Dietetic Association, people tend to either eat too much or too little when depressed or under stress. Eat too much and you find yourself dealing with sluggishness and weight gain. By eating too little you become overwhelmed with exhaustion and that makes it a hard habit to break. In both cases, you are often unable to do the tasks that lead you to feel more positive and motivated.
According to the American Psychological Association, “gut bacteria produce an array of neurochemicals that the brain uses for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including mood. It’s believed that 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood stabilizer, is produced by gut bacteria. Stress is thought to suppress beneficial gut bacteria.” To keep it simple, as you age you become the foods you eat and your gut will know if you are sticking to fruits, veggies, and vitamins or if you are overdoing processed foods and sugars.
If you are unsure of how to start treating your body with more love start by paying attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat. Since many of us don’t pay close attention to our eating habits, nutritionists recommend keeping a food journal. Documenting what, where and when you eat is a great way to gain insight into your eating patterns.
Healthy Eating Tips
- Steer clear of processed snack foods, such as potato chips, which can impair your ability to concentrate. Pass up sugar-filled snacks, such as candy and soft drinks, which lead to ups and downs in energy levels.
- Consume plenty of healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. This will support your brain function.
- Have a healthy snack when hunger strikes, such as fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, baked sweet potatoes, or edamame. This will give you more energy than packaged products.
- Develop a healthy shopping list and stick to it.
- Don’t shop while hungry, since you’ll be more apt to make unhealthy impulse purchases.
- Think about where and when you eat. Don’t eat in front of the television, which can be distracting and cause you to overeat. Instead, find a place to sit, relax and really notice what you’re eating. Chew slowly. Savor the taste and texture.
If you need guidance to connect your mental or physical health and don’t know how to get started, connect with a provider at Rivia Mind to set personalized goals and action plans to better your overall health and feel better today.