How a Healthy Lifestyle Can Dramatically Improve Your Mental Health
It’s a common thought that most people are lifting things in the gym, sprinting on the track, chomping on a leafy salad, or rolling out a yoga mat because of their desire for a fit physique.
Sure, that’s definitely important to a lot of people (and it’s okay that it is!), but a healthy lifestyle can do more than just provide you and your clients with toned biceps, six-pack abs, and a firm booty.
A healthy lifestyle is vital for overall mental health, too.
The connection makes sense, right? Positive food choices and good exercise keeps your heart and body happy, why wouldn’t it make your brain happy, too?
Obviously, there’s more to it, than that. A healthy lifestyle —diet and exercise —promotes special changes in the brain (think neural growth) that can create new activity patterns in the brain that promotes feelings of well-being. It also helps to release endorphins into your brain, which, if you’ve ever seen Legally Blonde, you know that endorphins make you happy.
The point is, a healthy lifestyle can help improve your mental health in an abundance of ways, check out a few of the most poignant below
Kicks Depression to the Curb
Exercise and healthy eating can both fight depression in a lot of different ways. Studies show that exercise can help treat mild to moderate depression as powerfully as antidepressant medication without the potentially harmful side effects (that being said, if exercise doesn’t do it for you, you should talk to a professional and working with them to find something that does).
It helps to relieve symptoms, promotes feelings of calmness, energizes your spirits, and through endorphins, create good feelings. It also can help to distract you from negative, depressing feelings.
But diet goes a long way for depression, too. According to a study from the University of Warwick, fruits and vegetables are associated with better mental well-being, as opposed to fatty foods, which another study shows can increase the risk of psychiatric symptoms. In other words, a diet with more healthy foods in it can promote optimistic feelings, happiness, and feelings of resilience.
Promotes Feelings of Overall Wellness
People who exercise and eat a healthy diet aren’t just in it for the physical gains — they’re likely in it because it makes them feel better.
In fact, they might be doing it for these reasons without really understanding it. Typically, exercise and eating right can make you feel more relaxed, help your cognizant abilities, allow you to feel more energetic throughout the day, and even sleep better at night. In short, people who live healthier lifestyles tend to just feel better, which can have huge effects on your mental health.
Lowers Your Anxiety
Exercise and a healthy diet have been proven to provide anti-anxiety treatments the natural way. If you’re dedicating time to exercise daily, you’re relieving tension and boosting your physical energy, but you’re also releasing helpful endorphins that provide a “gee, that makes me happy” feeling.
Getting yourself out and about can help you bring the focus off of your anxiety and onto something that’s positive —try to focus your attention on the exercise at hand to make sure you’re fully committed to unsticking yourself from the anxious feelings. If you’re running, pay attention to your rhythmic breathing. If you’re lifting weights, pay close attention to your form. You get the gist —if you’re focusing on the exercise, you’ll have room to leave your anxiety in the dust.
Disclaimer, if you suffer from anxiety, it’s okay if diet and exercise aren’t the only fixes for you —it’s possible that it could be really beneficial to work with a therapist or take anti-depressant medication, but in any case, adding on a healthier diet and exercise could be beneficial.
Helps You Sleep Better
Sleeping well helps boost your mental health and increase your cognitive function. According to a study posted in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, sleep and mental health are extremely connected. Sleep deprivation can worsen psychological state, feed stress, and lead to additional mental health disorders.
With exercise, you’re gifting your body and mind the chance to exert energy, reduce stress, and help to regulate sleep patterns. Even simple stretching or gentle exercises (like yoga) in the evening can help in promoting better sleep, which in turn, will aid your overall mental health, too.
Aid in Memory and Cognizance
Remember how exercising helps with endorphins?
Those exact same chemicals in your brain —prompted by exercise — that are making you feel better are also going to help you feel sharper mentally and aid in your concentration. Exercise even helps to stimulate brain cell growth, which could possibly aid in preventing any kind of age-related mental health issues.
Automatic Stress Reducer
Mental illness feeds off of stress, so, if you’re taking mindful, positive steps toward minimizing that stress, you’re able to put a hold on this cycle. There are plenty of exercises out there that can help you focus on mindfulness, calmness, and stress-busting — yoga is a great example of this type of exercise.
Yoga focuses on breathing and helps you learn to calm down, a study even suggests that exercises like yoga can help you see the world in a more positive, less threatening view.
Positive Coping Technique
If you’re suffering from any kind of mental health issues, you’re likely dealing with it with your favorite coping technique (everyone does this). Instead of furthering the decline of your mental health with negative coping mechanisms, try to reinforce healthful eating and moderate exercise as an outlet when you’re feeling upset, sad, anxious, or stressed.
As with any coping mechanism, make sure this outlet is entirely healthy and not becoming something that causes you further stress or anxiety. If regular exercise and eating a healthy diet can be positive coping mechanisms for you, then try to implement this into your daily routine.