Can Diet and Exercise Improve Mental Health?

Today’s blog post is from Paige Johnson, Personal Trainer at Learnfit.org

Photo by: Pixabay

When you think of dieting and exercising, the first thing that pops into your mind is likely weight loss and an improved figure. However, mental health can be improved as well, and there are fun and creative ways to start the process.

Take a Look at Your Diet

As you are looking for ways to improve your mental health, take a look at your diet to find items that could be bringing you down and replace them with mind and body boosting nutrients. According to research, increasing your intake of folate, which is found in leafy greens, is associated with a lower risk of depression and boosts the health of your hair, skin, nails, eyes, and liver. Rates of depression are also higher in people with a Vitamin D deficiency, and a lack of this important vitamin is thought to play a significant part in Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression that occurs in the fall and winter months. Other health benefits of Vitamin D include strong teeth and bones, healthy muscles, and a stronger immune system.

Most foods don’t naturally contain Vitamin D, and are instead Vitamin D fortified such as milk and orange juice. However, your body produces Vitamin D as a result of being out in the sun, so get out in the fresh air for at least 5 to 30 minutes twice a week. Get creative with your sun time and find fun activities such as walking your dog, hiking unknown areas near your home, or learning yoga. Involve the family and go on a scavenger hunt, play a game of tag, or pack a picnic lunch and hike to a scenic spot. Keep in mind that while sun exposure is beneficial, any exposure over 30 minutes requires sunscreen to prevent sun damage.

Exercise Has Mental Benefits

Exercise is a great way to keep your body in shape, but it can keep your brain healthy too. According to several studies, it was determined that elderly adults who exercised regularly had fewer “senior moments” as well as improved memory and cognitive function. Researchers aren’t sure how physical activity protects the brain, but they speculate that physical activity promotes heart health, which in turn creates a steady flow of nutrient-rich blood going to the brain to nourish neurons.

The symptoms of anxiety and depression can also be reduced with regular exercise. When you exercise, your brain releases feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression such as neurotransmitters and endorphins, while simultaneously reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. Exercise doesn’t just affect brain chemicals, but touts psychological and emotional benefits too. Regular exercise can serve as a distraction from the negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression, allowing you to take your mind off your worries and focus your mind elsewhere. Physical activity also helps you to cope with your anxiety or depression in a healthy way by implementing a positive coping strategy rather than a negative one such as eating junk food or sitting in front of the television.

When you think of ways to incorporate more exercise into your daily life, you may be quick to think of common exercises such as running on the treadmill at the gym, but exercise includes anything that gets you moving and your heart pumping. Get active by washing your car, gardening, or walking laps around your house. Turn mundane chores into a fun activity by divvying up the work and having a race to see who can finish their assigned task first. Find activities that you like and incorporate them into your weekly routine such as sports, dance, or other hobbies.

Diet and exercise can not only improve your mental health, but help you find fun, and creative new ways to get active to improve your mind and body. Tap into your interests, and turn it into a health-boosting activity

About the author: Paige Johnson considers herself to be a fitness nerd. She has a great love for strength training. In addition to weight-lifting, she is a yoga enthusiast and avid cyclist.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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