To Boost Mental Health, Start With Your Body

Your brain controls your body and your body fuels your brain. In order to understand how to begin to boost your mental health, you need to think about the mind-body connection.

Though a comprehensive approach to solid mental health involves techniques such as meditation, relaxation, and for some can involve prayer and other types of brain-first activities, they first key to improving your mental health is to do your body good. Obesity, improper or hypo-nutritious diets, lack of exercise, and chronic pain not only affect your body but your mood and overall level of mental health.

The first step to a healthy mind is a healthy body and the first step to a healthy body is a proper diet.

“One of the most obvious, yet under-recognized factors in the development of major trends in mental health is the role of nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. As well as its impact on short and long-term mental health, the evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease,” says the UK’s Mental Health Foundation.

It’s true. Studies shows that there is a correlation between diets heavy in healthy fruits and vegetables and decreased reports of depression. Good mental health is associated with not only this, but diets high in nuts and good fats like the ones in many fish. If you’re looking for a brain boost, try to avoid high-fat dairy and red meat, as well as processed carbs and sugary foods.

Mind Your Vitamin D

Studies have shown a link between Vitamin D deficiency and poor mental health.

“Rates of depression are higher in people with Vitamin D deficiency compared to people who have adequate levels of vitamin D. Lack of Vitamin D is thought to play a role in Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression that commonly starts in the fall, lasts through winter and subsides in the sunnier spring and summer months,” says Mental Health America.

So, what can you do to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D? There are basically three ways – sun exposure, supplements, and diet. The former should be moderated to reduce risk of skin cancer, and the latter involves upping your intake of naturally-occurring sources like fatty fish. As far as supplements go, they can be used during the winter months.

Get some exercise

According to the National Institutes of Health, exercise “improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”

From a scientific standpoint, exercise causes increased blood flow to the brain and triggers a release of endorphins, chemicals that can enhance mood. Exercise also helps prevent obesity, which is a known cause of poor mental health.

A little goes a long way. You don’t have to run marathons to improve your mental health. Going for a 30-minute walk, a light jog, or even just walking your dog around the neighborhood can have serious positive impacts on your mental health.

Cut back on tobacco and alcohol

Smoking doesn’t just harm your body, but it negatively affects mental health as well. If you’re looking to make a change, cutting back on activities that lead to addiction – like drinking and smoking – is a great place to start.

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Article courtesy of Jennifer Woodson, Public Health Corps

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