Nutrition and Exercise for Mental Wellness
I think it’s safe to say that everyone, on some level, at some point in their life, has struggled with being healthy. Whether it’s not getting enough exercise or not eating the right amount of the right food, there are many barriers that can prevent someone from achieving overall wellness. “I don’t have time.” I can’t afford a membership.” It’s too expensive to eat healthy.” “I am too tired after work.” How many of us have said these statements to ourselves? How many of us hear these statements from a friend or relative?
Research continues to support the benefits of nutrition and exercise when it comes to not only physical health but mental health as well. Recent studies have linked poor diet with increased symptoms of mental health. There is a huge mind-body connection and what we put into our bodies has the potential to negatively affect our moods. Eating healthy can be an effective treatment strategy for depression and people who eat a diet high in whole foods such as fruit; whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and olive oil are 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of these foods. One study found that 1/3 of its participants with depression experienced full relief of their symptoms after improving their diet. Some parents have cut out gluten from their child’s diet and have seen behavioral and emotional disturbances reduce significantly.
Good nutrition starts in the womb. The children of women who eat diets high in processed, fried and sugary food during pregnancy have more emotional problems in childhood. Studies have found that young people with poor diets are 80% more likely to have depression. Diet is linked to the hippocampus which is a key area of the brain involved in learning, memory and mental health. One major setback also with children is that across the nation, PE and recess time is becoming more and more limited in school. For busy and stressed out parents, using electronic devices for babysitting is an all too common occurrence.
Exercise has so many benefits besides losing weight. It can extend the longevity of your life, strengthen your bones and improve mental health symptoms. When a person doesn’t get enough exercise, they are at increased risk for health problems including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Exercise increases endorphins which are neurotransmitters that are released when we experience stress or pain to reduce their negative effects and increase pleasure throughout the whole body. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that increases during exercise that sends messages about appetite, sleep and mood throughout your body. Dopamine (our reward system) and GABA are neurotransmitters that are also influenced by exercise which helps us process visual information, determine heart rate and affects our emotions and the ability to think clearly.
So what prevents someone from living a healthy lifestyle? There are many answers to this question and my work as a therapist gives me the opportunity to address these barriers with my clients. One of the most common barriers is fear. There are two meanings to fear. Fear everything and run or face everything and rise. Why would someone fear being healthy? The most common type of fear I encounter in my work is the fear of failure. People avoid trying to change to avoid the irrational prediction they will fail at their attempts to be healthy. Positive change can be terrifying for some people who have become accustomed to living in chaos and depression. Why is that? When we are used to living a certain way, even if it is unhealthy and negative, the familiarity of it can prevent us from seeking something we know nothing about. Self esteem is another common barrier. When a person perceives themselves to be unworthy of positivity, reaching a goal to improve their quality of life doesn’t seem appealing.
One of the best things my parents did while I was growing up was limiting our Nintendo use and pushing us into sports. Being an athlete is a big part of my identity and my number one coping skill. When I am anxious, angry, sad or worried, that is my go to remedy. Be active. Eat well and most importantly take care of your whole self. Your quality of life, along with its longevity, literally depends on it.