July 8, 2024
July 8, 2024

How Does Diet and Exercise Affect Mental Health?

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How Does Diet and Exercise Affect Mental Health?

A healthy diet and regular exercise have numerous benefits - one of them being the impact on mental wellbeing.  

Exercise produces ‘happy feel-good’ neurotransmitters - such as endorphins, endocannabinoids, and dopamine in our brains, which have a positive effect on improving conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Movement not only boosts our mood, but can also promote better sleep, reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and regulate blood sugar levels.  

Diet is of equal importance. What we eat is key to how our brain functions - yet in the 21st century, we have seen an increase in the consumption of refined sugars and saturated fats. This means that many of us are depriving our brains of the crucial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants we need.

As awareness of the benefits of strong mental health grows, we will likely see greater focus on both diet and exercise in the medical industry and society at large. So, as US Mental Health Awareness Week recently ended, we wanted to shine a light on this important topic!

Ready to learn more about diet, exercise, and mental health? Read on for more information about this subject, as well as tips on how to incorporate working out and healthy recipes into your daily routine.

The Role of Diet and Fitness on Mental Health

There is no debating the benefits of a well-balanced diet and regular exercise on mental health. Research has shown that people who take care of their bodies with exercise and nutritious food, usually live happier lives and are more emotionally stable. 

Diet and Mental Health

Foods rich in vitamins and minerals that possess antioxidative properties, provide our brains with the necessary nourishment, as well as protection from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress produces ‘free radicals’ in the brain, and is the reaction to insufficient protective antioxidants. 

Antioxidants are essential compounds in food that find and mop up these ‘free radicals’. The good news is that antioxidants can be found in many fruits and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, cranberries, raspberries, grapes, and more! 

It’s not only important to follow diets that provide your brain with protection from oxidative stress - but also to stay away from foods that promote ‘free radical’ production and inflammation. 

Therefore, avoid food types that contain refined sugar or are loaded with trans fats. Oxidative stress and inflammation can cause brain tissue injury which can lead to a whole array of conditions such as cancer and depression. 

Two diet options that can work well for healthy living are the Mediterranean and Okinawa diets. Not only are they well-balanced with the right vitamins and minerals, but they are also linked to longevity. 

A Mediterranean diet involves consuming a diverse range of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, legumes, and lean protein. The Okinawan diet is primarily plant-based with whole grains, with the requirement to only eat up to 80% satiety. 

The Japanese community calls it ‘Hara Hashi Bun Me’ - which means the diet ensures moderate caloric intake and prevents gluttony. 

Exercise and Mental Health

A regular exercise routine has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression and improve other mental health disorders. And, the benefits of consistent work outs don’t stop there! Movement can also regulate a better sleep cycle and boost energy levels

This is because our body releases endorphins after exercise sessions, which bind to receptors in our brains. This surge in endorphins is thought to induce a euphoric state and also reduces pain levels. 

The ood-boosting effects of movement can also be related to increased blood circulation to the brain. This supplemental blood flow influences our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

Our HPA axis is connected to other parts of our brain such as the limbic system (controlling mood and motivation), the amygdala (response center to stress), and the hippocampus (which play a part in memory formation as well as mood and motivation).

Exercising can also help us to sleep soundly. It is recommended to have at least seven to eight hours of sleep as an adult, but the quality of sleep also matters. 

Sleep deprivation has been associated with the weakening of our immune system, glucose metabolism, and cognitive memory. A study found that a 12-week exercise routine showed favorable effects on sleep, increasing duration of REM sleep, a state of deep sleep. 

As well as the above, sufficient sleep and movement are fundamental to increasing lifespan. To delve deeper into the ins and outs of living a longer and healthier life, learn more here. 

How to Improve Your Diet

A healthy diet is not a restrictive diet. It is important to enjoy a range of foods with a well-balanced meal plan. After all, when we talk about improving our diet, we want more of the right food types. An ideal diet includes:

  • Five-a-day: Fruit and vegetables are vital to include in your diet. Try to incorporate five portions of fruit and vegetables of your liking in your meals. If you are finding this a little tricky, why not substitute your midday snack with dried fruit?
  • Whole grains: Grains should make up a significant portion of your meals, however, the type of grain consumed is important. Wholegrains, brown bread/rice, or oats, have a high fiber content. White grain alternatives have had this fiber content removed. 
  • Protein: You can get your source of protein from meat, fish, or vegetable alternatives. Proteins are essential building blocks for muscle gain and producing enzymes/hormones. Opt for lean meats, fresh fish, and legumes. 
  • Fats: You might think avoiding fats completely is a good idea, but not all fats are bad for you! In fact, we should have healthy fats in our diet as it's a source of fatty acids our body cannot produce. Fatty fish, nuts, or avocados are ideal.

Following suggestions like the above can help to lower your cardiovascular risk, reducing glucose spikes and improving bowel movement. 

Important Tips for Exercising

In this day and age we work ever-longer hours, so exercise may seem harder than ever. The good news is there are so many ways we can seamlessly introduce exercise into our daily routine. Believe it or not, exercise can be fun, it doesn’t need to be a burden!

First things first: how much exercise is recommended a week? Well, 150 minutes of moderate movement is the general rule of thumb, leaving us with endless options. A swim, a nice slow jog, or maybe some tennis on a warm summer’s day. It’s up to you!

A few tips for exercising:

  • Start slow: It is great to be ambitious, but you don’t want to demotivate yourself. Begin with realistic goals in mind and slowly work towards building a routine.
  • Choose a sport you like: You are more likely to exercise if you are doing an activity you enjoy.
  • Find an exercise buddy: Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself alone. Why not find a running mate or start a sports team? 
  • Fresh air: Enjoying the beauty of nature while exercising can further boost health benefits. But this is not a must, there’s nothing wrong with the gym, after all! 

Diet, Exercise and Mental Health: Summary

Recently, the medical industry has started shining a light on the crucial impact diet and exercise have on mental health. We’ve also seen increasing awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing, with publicity campaigns and special weeks dedicated to the issue across the world.

After all, all of us can improve our mental wellbeing if we make the effort to eat well and get moving. It’s important not to let the unhealthy habits of the past stop us from making a positive change today. 

Start by reducing the amount of sugar in your coffee - or going for more walks with your loved ones. Small changes can have big impacts later down the line.

Another reality is that a healthy diet and exercise may save your life. Unfortunately, cancer is becoming more common, affecting nearly 40% of US men and women over their lifetime.

While many people know that a bad diet can increase cancer risk - there is also a link to obesity. A recent study from Lund University, Sweden, showed the link between excess weight and cancer in 40% of cases.

To ease your worries, Ezra has a five-minute risk assessment quiz, a tool specifically designed to give you a better understanding of your personal cancer risks. 

Knowledge is power, and by understanding your risk concerning cancer, you can empower yourself to make an informed decision about your health. 

Ezra also offers an innovative non-invasive full-body scan that allows detection of early-stage tumors in up to 13 body parts or organs. Additionally, it can also help assess for some vascular conditions and anatomical abnormalities. 

In this advanced era of healthcare, a lot of cancers and conditions are easily treatable with early detection. Be proactive and book your Ezra Full Body Scan online today.