Tuesday 1st of February, 2022.
Written by Clinical Psychologist, Ebony Collins.
Eat Well, Sleep Well & Exercise
The year is well and truly underway. For most people, any resolutions or big ambitions have already been put aside. When asking people about their goals, I often get a grumble or the very general response of ‘I want to improve my health’. Presented with the following question of ‘what does that mean to you?’, I get some vague comments about exercising more and eating well. With this in mind I wanted the first blog post of 2022 to surround the topic of ‘Health’ and its role in your mental wellbeing.
Improve your eating, exercise regularly and get enough sleep; what simple ideas. Their simplicity is often why they are overlooked or pushed aside when given as advice by a health care professional. People are looking for the revolutionary ideas, something that sounds amazing and is going to change their health dramatically. But here’s the truth. If it were moderately hard, you probably wouldn’t do it. If it were too complicated, you would possibly give up quickly. If it were really revolutionary, you would probably questions it’s success. Simple doesn’t mean easy and it doesn’t mean that it won’t have a significant impact.
I’m here to explain the reasons why these simple strategies for managing your health are the best tools for managing your mental health.
We all feel better when we eat well, but we feel good when we eat something that isn’t good for us. That feeling of enjoyment we get with indulgence is different to the feeling associated with eating a balanced diet. Eating well doesn’t mean eating perfectly, it’s about getting the right balance. There is more emerging research looking into the connection between our mind and our gut. The research has show that our gut plays a role in influencing our emotional capacity. The gut is responsible for producing a large number of hormones in the body, more than any other organ.
Having a healthy gut aides in the production of the hormones which directly affect our brain. This is the reason that eating well matters so much. If our gut isn’t working to it’s full capacity then it’s ability to restore these hormone is affected. This flow on affect to the brain can influence our emotional capacity and our general mental health. Various studies have shown the role that diet can play in maintaining our mood and mental wellbeing.
We also know that hunger can mimic the symptoms of anxiety. That feeling of stomach upset, headache, dizziness, shaking, dry mouth, tension; can all be symptoms of anxiety or hunger. Dehydration can have similar symptoms. Keeping our bodies in a physically healthy state by eating well can help to prevent the mood fluctuations that occur as a result of sugar changes, or digestive upset.
A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. The hormones involved in feeling full are reduced by a lack of sleep and the hormones involved in hunger are increased, as are the hormones that cause cravings for food that are .
A lack of sleep causes strong negative emotional reactions as a result of the amygdala becoming hyperactive by up to 60%. The prefrontal cortex which makes most of our decisions and controls our emotion centre (amygdala) looses it’s effectiveness in communicating with the amygdala. Sleep also improves our immunity which is an important factor in our general health and wellbeing. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night can increase the risk by almost three times for things like the common cold. During sleep at night our body replenishes our systems involved in operating the immune system. This prevents us from becoming rundown. We all know the impact that feeling run down can have on our mental health.
Maintaining our physical health through movement helps to increase our production of hormones that are known to improve the mood. You don’t have to do a massive workout, or run 20km to get these benefits. Doing 30 minutes at least three times a week of exercise will provide the benefit you need. While this exercise need to be to an aerobic level you can get this power walking or vacuuming. These hormones that are produced through exercise control our pain and pleasure centres. They can also lead to improved focus, mood, and memory. Exercise is one of the most effective things that you can do to improve your brains function. Exercise improves the prefrontal cortex which is involved in decision making and attention. As well as affecting the hippocampus which is involved in memory and learning. Just through exercising we have the ability to positively affect the anatomy, physiology and function of the brain. Long term exercise provides lasting effects on the neurotransmitters involved in the production of hormones providing a good mood. So not only do you get the immediate effects for your mood but also long lasting effects.
Tips for improving your mental health through diet, sleep, and exercise:
- Eat regular meals.
- Aim for a balanced diet.
- It can be helpful to track your eating and mood to identify any links in your eating.
- Consider seeing a dietitian if you experience digestive issues.
- Exercise for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week.
- Aim for regular sleep and wake times.
- An average of 8 hours of sleep is considered beneficial (for adults).
Look out for next months blog as we will explore sleep; it’s importance for our mental health and how to improve our sleep.