The Building Blocks of Mental Health Part 1: Diet and Exercise


In the U.S., one out of every five adults struggles with a mental illness in any given year. The same statistic applies to children ages 13 to 18, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Unfortunately, these issues have no quick fix. Even medication, therapy, and other treatments like TMS and ketamine can’t fully eliminate your symptoms if other key areas in your life are out of balance and compromising your mental health.

The three critical building blocks to good mental health for those with a mental illness:

  1. Diet and exercise
  2. Adherence to medication and other treatment regimens
  3. Therapy and coping skills

All three of these important habits play a central role in your mental wellness. And if one of these aspects of your health isn’t functioning correctly, you can be thrown off balance.

The first key to good mental health, exercise, and healthy eating play a huge role in your mental wellness. How can you have a healthy brain if you aren’t taking care of the rest of your body? Studies show that regular exercise can actually alleviate symptoms of long-term depression, and diet also has a direct correlation with mental health.

Exercise is Key for Mental Stability

The American Psychological Association (APA) says that those with anxiety who regularly exercise are less likely to panic in stressful situations. The APA also says that there is evidence to suggest that people who lead a more active lifestyle are less likely to have depression than those who are inactive.

Psychology Today claims that this is due to the fact that exercise promotes blood flow to the brain and even increases the volume of certain parts of the brain. Psychiatrists suggest that regular 45- to 60-minute exercise sessions can treat even chronic depression as well as antidepressant medications.

Setting the long-term results aside, exercise can also provide you with immediate relief from anxiety and depression. In fact, Michael Otto, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Boston University, says that you can usually feel the positive effects of exercise on your mental health within five minutes.

So the next time you’re feeling sad and anxious, consider doing some type of exercise to help you feel better. Consider developing a regular exercise schedule to help keep your mental health in tip-top shape.

There are unlimited forms of exercise that you can take up, and the key is to find an activity that is fun, like bike riding or swimming. Find something that you like and don’t be afraid to change it up for a little variety!

How Diet Affects the Mood

Eating habits can also positively or negatively affect mental health. In a study cited by the APA, children who regularly ate fast food and sugar, as well as fewer vegetables and healthy fats, were more likely to have ADHD. And one-third of adults with depression who worked with a dietician went into remission after changing their eating habits.

The Mental Health Foundation in England reports that nearly two-thirds of those who don’t have mental health issues also regularly eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Just as the right foods and nutrients promote physical health, they also promote mental health and better brain function.

Things like sugar and foods that are high in fat can negatively affect your mental health. Some researchers believe there is a direct correlation between inflammation in the body caused by high carb and high-fat foods and mood instability. Try to eat a lot of green vegetables, which contain folate, and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts, flax, and oily fish, and consider taking supplements like vitamin D to help your brain.

Obviously, diet and exercise can’t solve all of your mental health issues, which is why it is only one part of the formula. However, diet and exercise can make a huge difference in your mental health, especially when you feel like medication and therapy aren’t working.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue, consider evaluating your diet and exercise habits. Perhaps eating more healthy foods and adding exercise into your routine could make a world of difference in your life.

Stay tuned for parts two and three of this series where we will discuss the other two aspects of mental wellness. For more information about what you can do to maintain your mental health, contact us at Serenity Mental Health Centers to schedule an appointment.

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*All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.