Diet, exercise can improve mental fitness

Good mental health is a vital part of overall good health and wellbeing.

Good mental health is a vital part of overall good health and wellbeing.

It is just as important to maintain good mental health as it is to maintain good physical health. When we are mentally healthy, we enjoy our life, our environment, and the people in it. We can be creative, learn, try new things, and take risks. We are better able to cope with difficult times in our personal and professional lives. We feel the sadness and anger that can come with the death of a loved one, a job loss or relationship problems and other difficult events but, in time, we are able to get on with and enjoy our lives once again.

According to the Canadian Health Association (2011), three important ways to improve your mental fitness are to get physically active, eat right and take control of stress.

It is common knowledge that exercise enhances our physical condition and combats disease. But it has been found that exercise also has psychological benefits.

Exercise is increasingly becoming part of the prescription for treatment of depression and anxiety. Exercise alone is not a cure but it does have a positive impact. Therapists report that patients suffering from mild to moderate depression who exercise regularly simply feel better and are less likely to overeat or abuse alcohol and drugs. Many studies show that people who exercise report they feel less stressed or nervous even after as little as five minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming. In fact, moods such as tension, fatigue and anger are all positively affected by exercise.

It is known that eating a healthy balanced diet helps to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer and a range of other diseases and disorders. But, a 2005 study – “Changing Diets, Changing Minds” – by the UK Mental Health Foundation, which analyzed 500 research studies, makes a persuasive a link between diet and mental health. It suggests that people who eat a diet with too much sugar, too many trans-fats and not enough vitamins, minerals and “healthy” fats seem to be at higher risk for developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and a range of depressive conditions.

The message is not a new one but it is perhaps the most forceful argument yet for paying more attention to the nutrition-mental health connection. What is on the plate becomes the raw material for the brain to manufacture hormones and neurotransmitters that control our sleep, mood and behaviour. If the brain is short-changed, intellectual and emotional potential is also short-changed.

Stress can come from major events in life such as getting married or changing jobs, or from minor daily incidents, such as job pressures or holiday planning. The things that cause you stress may not be a problem for someone else. If you did not feel stress of some sort, you would not be alive.

Good stress, such as winning a game or going on vacation, can make you feel more involved and energized. But the negative effects of too much stress associated with being under pressure can affect not only physical health but also mental health.

Because everyone is different, there is no single way to cope with stress. The Canadian Mental Health Association website has a wealth of resources on stress management and topics related to mental health. Locally, there are health professionals who are available to advise you about any mental health matter. If you or someone you know requires mental health crisis intervention counselling, call toll-free 1-877-820-7444. Available 24 hours/seven days a week.

 

– submitted by Agassiz Community Health