Lifestyle and Mental Health

Lifestyle factors, such as exercise, diet and self care, can play a meaningful role in either the progression or prevention of mental illnesses. Therefore, understanding how they can influence mental health and be used to improve it, is essential.

Exercise and Mental Health 

The following improvements are associated with regular exercise:

  • Better cardiovascular health 
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Improved mood
  • Enhanced brain function
  • Decreased stress, anxiety and depression levels
  • Lower risk of developing a mental illness

Many of these results occur because exercise increases the brain’s receptibility to positive mood hormones. These hormones include serotonin, which can increase happiness and decrease stress, as well as endorphins, which lessens pain and increases happiness. 

Forms of exercise include  walking, running, cycling, or swimming, to name a few. Around 30 minutes a day is recommended. For busy individuals, incorporating this exercise into daily routines, such as walking to public transport or cycling to school, may be helpful. If you feel too nervous or embarrassed to exercise, bringing a trusted family member or friend can help you to feel more comfortable and supported through the process.

Diet and Mental Health 

The link between diet and mental health may come as some surprise, however there is a growing body of scientific literature that is expanding upon the gut-brain link and finding important links between our diet, gut health and brain. 

The benefits of healthy eating include:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved sleep
  • A reduced risk of depression
  • Alleviated depression symptoms

Eating unhealthy foods can be a coping strategy that people use as a way to relieve stress. Foods high in saturated fats and sugar interact with dopamine in a similar way to other addictive substances, meaning these bad habits can become difficult to change. Due to the negative effects of an unhealthy diet, this can compound existing mental health issues or play a role in developing a mental health illness.

Self-care and Mental Health 

Self-care is important and unique for every person. Generally speaking, self-care refers to actions that preserve and maintain one's physical and mental health. 

There are many different ways that one can practice self care, depending on the individual’s needs and enjoyments. However no matter the activity, it is important to practice self care, as it builds your capacity to manage stress and increases your resilience. 

Examples of self care include:

  • Exercise
  • Getting enough sleep 
  • Nurturing and maintaining personal relationships.
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Spending time doing enjoyable activities, such as reading a book in bed, listening to music or cooking.