How A Balanced Diet And Exercise Regimen Help Mental Health

The importance of proper nutrition and exercise for individual wellbeing has been well studied and documented. However, newer studies may be pointing to the fact that diet and workout may equally be as crucial in maintaining mental health.

Mental health is a broad term covering a person’s emotional, social, and psychological well-being. Mental health determines how individuals relate to others, handle stress, and make everyday decisions. In light of this, individuals must protect their mental health in the same way as their physical health.

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Balanced Diet and the Brain

A balanced diet is generally defined as a meal containing the right amounts of essential nutrients for health. A balanced diet can raise energy levels, improve mood, and facilitate better thinking. This dietary guideline explains how much nutrients individuals need per day.

The brain uses about a fifth of all the energy in the body. Without adequate energy from dietary carbohydrates, the brain functions less than optimally, affecting mood and thinking. Amino acids from dietary protein also play a role in the regulation of feelings and thoughts. Fatty acids, particularly omega-3-fatty acids, are essential for proper neuronal communication.

The deficiency of certain minerals and vitamins can also adversely affect mental health; the absence of dietary iron and B vitamins can cause feelings of lethargy, weakness, and irritability. Selenium and folic acid deficiency have been implicated in some cases of depression.

Proper hydration is also a part of balanced eating. The amount of water required for health varies among individuals. However, the general recommendation is about six to eight glasses daily. Caffeine-containing beverages and chocolate may also affect mood and worsen some mental health conditions.

Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field of study that explores dietary interventions that can benefit mental health. Research shows that the proper diet can prevent, treat, or improve symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and ADD/ADHD. Emerging evidence indicates that nutrition may be as important to mental health as it is to physical health.

Dietary changes may also be required when using drugs for mental health. Individuals should speak with their doctor about possible nutritional modifications before using certain medications.

The Importance of Exercise in Mental Health

The benefits of exercises on the body are mainstream information. However, the impact of a steady exercise regimen on the mind is also significant. Physical activity triggers a tremendous feeling of wellbeing, improves memory, promotes sleep, and fights stress.

Developing a regular exercise routine, preferably daily, can prevent mental health disorders. Even little exercises like walking or climbing up the stairs can provide tremendous health benefits over time.

Exercise causes endorphin production, which improves mood and self-esteem, contributing to positive mental health. It also enhances the formation of neurons and reduces inflammation. This study attempts to explain the connection between exercise and improved mental health.

Common Mental Health Disorders that Diet and Exercise Can Treat

Depression

Depression is the most prevalent mental health condition that causes low mood and disinterest in regular activities. It is the leading cause of disability globally, with about five percent of adults reporting depression symptoms.

This condition is a significant contributor to the overall global burden of disease, with depression leading to symptoms like chest pain, fatigue, and weakness. Studies show that running for 15 minutes daily or walking for an hour can cut depression symptoms by up to 26 percent. Exercise distracts the mind, making it easier for individuals to avoid negative thought patterns that can trigger depressive states.

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is characterized by fear, worry, and anxiety that is serious enough to interfere with daily activities. A mindful approach to exercise can help reduce the thoughts and feelings that lead to anxiety. The endorphins released from exercise relieve tension, eases stress, and increases mental alertness.

Insomnia

Mental health conditions are often associated with a disrupted circadian rhythm and poor sleep. Yoga, stretching, and other mild exercises can help improve sleep.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Exercise stimulates the releases of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which improves focus and motivation in a way that is similar to drug treatment.

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General Recommendations for Diet and Exercise

Diet

There is no one-fits-all diet for preventing or improving mental health symptoms. A healthy diet for mental health should be rich in:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Omega-3-fatty acids.
  • Olive oils
  • Moderate amounts of dairy
  • Fish and poultry
  • Legumes

This list is not exhaustive, and individuals should speak with a doctor or nutritional expert to devise an individual eating plan.

Intermittent Fasting

Mounting evidence indicates that fasting intermittently may have some mental health benefits. Intermittent fasting has been linked to improved mood, alertness, and an overall feeling of wellbeing.

Exercise

Walking or Running

The so-called “runner’s high” helps clear the mind and reduce symptoms of depression by as much as 30 percent. Running outdoors can be a helpful antidepressant in dealing with cases of mild to moderate depression.

Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that attempts to harmonize the mind and body. These exercises aim to still the mind by staying in the present moment through meditation and breath control techniques. The mental health benefits of this practice include reduced stress, improved mood, and sharpened concentration. 

Boxing

Striking a punching bag can help deal with stress and anxiety. The release of endorphins after an intense session provides a calming effect and an outlet for negative feelings.

Resistance Exercises

Doing bodyweight exercises or lifting weights can have a profound impact on how the individual feels and looks. Resistance exercises improve self-esteem, which can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

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Conclusion

Mental health issues have not been explored extensively as physical health conditions. However, available data shows that eating correctly and exercising can do a lot to prevent, improve, and treat several mental health conditions.

Mental health issues vary in symptoms and severity among individuals. Thus, doctors often devise individualized treatment plans. Likewise, there is no single nutrition or exercise plan that can help all mental health patients. Doctors and therapists must work closely with patients to develop dietary and exercise regimens suited to their personal needs. 

Last Updated on November 9, 2021

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