The Connection Between Physical and Mental Health
Many of us seriously underrate how strongly our body affects our state-of-mind. We don’t realize how strongly poor diet, lack of sleep, and too little exercise can affect our emotional and mental health.
Better Nutrition Can Alleviate Depression and Anxiety
Over the past decade, interest in how diet affects mental health has grown considerably. Large studies have found that habitual consumption of an unhealthy diet (defined as high in processed foods) is associated with increased risk of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents.1
A study employing a “diet intervention” in which participants were given food hampers filled with vegetables, fruits, legumes, and fish oil supplements as well as a cooking workshop, found an improvement in depression symptoms after three months. The effects were shown to hold over time with sustained improvements found at a six-month follow-up evaluation.
Exercise Can Profoundly Affect Mood and Improve Memory
The effects of regular exercise on the brain are profound and almost immediate. Changes in mood are so quick you can try it yourself (after talking to your doctor about beginning an exercise program!) and see how you improve.
Over time, the beneficial effects of exercise can be found for mood, attention, and memory. Researchers believe that exercise directly affects thinking and memory by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation as well as encouraging the production of new blood vessels in the brain while promoting the overall health of new brain cells.2
Regular exercise may be effective for reducing some of the symptoms of severe mental illness. Aerobic exercise has been shown to be an effective therapeutic intervention for people with schizophrenia, with simultaneous improvements in psychiatric symptoms and physical health.4
The benefits of exercise apply across the age spectrum. In a large study (n=9702) of Canadian adolescents (aged 14–15 years), the odds of having moderate and severe symptoms of depression and anxiety compared with no symptoms was 1.43 times higher in physically inactive youth relative to physically active youth.6
Sleep Habits Affect Mood and Brain Function
When we are pressed for time, one of the first things we sacrifice is sleep. Staying up late, waking up early, and taking substances that reduce our quality of sleep has a negative effect on state of mind. Clinicians and researchers have documented the connection between sleep and mood, and it has been estimated that approximately 90% of those suffering from depression complain of poor sleep quality.3