The benefits of diet and exercise to improve mental health

We all know that following a healthy diet is great for our physical health, however, it can also help to improve our mental health.

Certain foods and medication don’t mix well

If you happen to be taking medication for a mental health condition, then certain foods can be problematic. For example, food and drink containing tyramine (such as coffee, tea and chocolate) can present a higher risk when also taking certain antidepressants.

It’s always best to seek advice from a professional about how certain medications can be affected by food, how they specifically affect you and what you can do to lower the risks. Relief Seeker can steer you towards professionals who can offer guidance on this, in addition to providing advice on how to calm anxiety.

Regular meals can keep energy levels up

If you have a mental health problem, what you eat can be the start of a vicious cycle, because some anxious people turn to comfort food, usually high in fat and sugar. That can then lead to lethargy and will have a negative impact on mood, and feelings of guilt or regret about eating all that food. However, eating small regular meals of foods which are low in fat and contain nutritional value, can help to improve mood and keep control of energy levels throughout the day.

Taking care of your body can help to take care of your mind.

More energy for exercising

Exercise can also have a positive effect on mental health. Eating the right foods to give our bodies more energy can motivate us to take regular exercise. It’s easy to fall into the trap of staying indoors, putting off exercise, then feeling worse, before eating more junk food. That can result in a further deterioration of mental health and a lack of motivation.

 Staying hydrated and cutting down on caffeine

 Drinking plenty of water is also a good way of looking after our bodies. Caffeine can boost energy for a very limited time but then quickly leaves you feeling deflated. Therefore, drinking more water and less caffeine is good for our minds and bodies.

Not only does water reduce cravings for sugary food, but it helps our bodies when exercising, by replenishing lost fluids and helping to improve performance, which can lead to better weight management. Exercise and the feeling it produces can also be beneficial for mental health. Feeling better about our bodies and ourselves in general can be good for our mood, so something as simple as drinking between six and eight glasses of water each day can help with all of this.

Alternatives to fatty foods

There are some fatty foods that do our minds and bodies more harm than good. They include chocolate, most takeaways and processed foods. Alcohol can also be detrimental. These can all have a negative effect on brain proteins.

Foods containing essential fats, such as oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel, etc.) can be good for improving brain proteins, helping to improve our state of mind. That is why a change of diet can have a significant effect on mental health. Depending on the severity of your diagnosis, an alteration in diet can reduce the need for medication. Obviously, it’s recommended to have a discussion with a health professional before stopping or reducing prescribed medication.

How food can improve mood

Omega-3 can improve memory and mood, so eating more oily fish, nuts and seeds, eggs, and certain types of yoghurts can be helpful.

Low levels of iron in the body has been linked to depression. Foods which contain iron include some cereals, spinach and wholegrain.

Vitamin B12 is linked to cognitive function. A lack of it can lead to mood swings and an inability to concentrate. To help with this, try eating fish, meat, eggs and cereals which contain B12.

Noticing the changes

If you want to see whether a change of diet can improve mental health, try keeping a food diary and note how you felt on those days, then see if there are any consistencies in mood, linked to specific foods and drinks. These can be discovered by cutting out one or two foods at a time and looking for significant changes in mood and depression which may be triggered by those foods in your diet.

A study showed that a Mediterranean diet reduced depression in those who took part and it seemed to still have an effect six months later.

Diet, exercise and mental wellbeing are linked in a complex way and improving one can often lead to improvements in another.

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