Today we are going to talk about a subject that has a lot of misinformation floating around about: Diet and Exercise and its Effects on Mental Health. For many years, doctors and scientists thought mental health was “all in our heads”. But turns out they were wrong. New evidence shows that there is a connection between the mind and the body and that your gut and physical health have more to do with your mental well-being than previously recognised.
The Importance of Good Nutrition
Like an engine in a car, your body and mind need the right fuel to run. You couldn’t run an engine on water, and you certainly won’t feel mentally well if your brain isn’t getting the right nutrients it needs to produce enough of the right amount of chemicals to keep you mentally healthy.
What we eat affects how we think and feel every day of our lives. The Mental Health Foundation suggest that for a brain to remain healthy, it needs different amounts of:
- Complex Carbohydrates
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
- Amino Acids
- Vitamins and Minerals
Eating right is an essential tool in keeping yourself mentally healthy. In addition to eating the right foods, studies have shown that exercise also has a positive effect on our mental health. People who ate the right diet, in combination with exercise felt happier overall and more resilient to the pressures of life.
Why exercise is important
Studies have additionally shown a direct link between moderate amounts of exercise and increased mood. Scientists have defined moderate as around 30 minutes of cardio related exercise. These same studies also show that over exercising can be harmful to your mental health. The sweet spot, as they say is between 30-60 minutes of exercise daily. Chekroud and Kamm’s 2018 study found that those who exercised regularly found the same benefits as a dose of Prozac.
Even people with serious mental health concerns such as psychosis found benefit in the addition of exercise into their day to day routines. Benefits were enhanced in situations such as walking groups where the person was also able to benefit from the social interactions. The combination further motivated participants to continue with this new routine.
How to add exercise into your routine
Small, sustainable changes make the longest lasting impacts. Don’t go into exercise feeling like you need to run a mile a day or climb a mountain to get benefits. Simply walking an additional 5 minutes a day each week has more of a positive impact than taking an hour long spinning class class every day. You’re more likely to stick to a few minutes of walking than the commitment of an hour long class. And as mentioned in the study above, too much exercise is not a good thing. Creating a reward system in which you make small milestones to achieve will help keep you motivated. For instance, maybe after a 20 minute walk, you allow yourself to binge watch a show you’ve been meaning to watch. Or spend the day at the beach after completing a walk every day. Try to avoid making rewards based around food.
Diet and Exercise and its Effects on Mental Health
Keeping our minds healthy is one of the most important tasks we face in life. Making sure we are doing all we can to provide our brains with the right supports means our brain is there to support us as well. Like the well oiled machine mentioned above, our brains are an engine. Are you fueling your engine with water or quality oil?