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Mental health issues are becoming an epidemic among our population, spanning across all ages but mainly centred in young people and the elderly. As a consequence, there’s been a lot of research into how to best treat these mental issues so people can go back to having normal, healthy, and happy lives.
One avenue that’s being explored is the connection between physical well-being and mental well-being. It’s easy to conceptualise our conscious state as this intangible energy that can’t be quantified, but how we think and what we feel is very much the byproduct of measurable chemical reactions within the brain. It stands to reason then that how well we treat our physical bodies will translate into health outcomes on our mental state.
Luckily, it just so happens that people have been looking into this idea for some time now, and here’s a few things they’ve found:
Exercise makes you happier
Getting regular exercise has proven to have benefits on mental health in both the short and long term. Runners high is a perfect example of a short-term boost in mental state as a consequence of physical activity. The act of running releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins into the body which results in a very pleasurable feeling for some time afterwards. Long term, people who have a more active lifestyle have a much better metabolism which allows them to more easily break down nutrients and keep their body well supplied for the day ahead of them. Being more active also tends to correlate with having more energy and being able to accomplish more during the day, two things that can be very helpful for maintaining good mental health.
Quality in, quality out
The quality of your diet has a massive effect on a person’s mental state. Everyone needs to take initiative in managing their diet if they want to optimise their mental health. Because the body can only make use of what you put in it, having an unbalanced diet means your body will be robbed of vital nutrients that your brain needs to function. Proper levels of things like magnesium and calcium are vital for muscle function, there are many other vitamins and minerals necessary for proper maintenance of the brain. What you eat is the fuel your provide for your body. Processed foods low in nutrients but high in fats and calories is like putting crude oil into your tank whereas a balanced healthy diet is much more akin to pure rocket fuel.
Physical ailments can affect your mood
Issues with certain organs or organ systems are also associated with depressed mood and reduced mental functioning. Those who suffer from depression routinely have their blood checked for signs of hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid gland). Other things like unwanted guests such as parasites can sap the body of nutrients necessary for peak functioning. Typically these parasites take just enough away from you that you aren’t going to die but enough that something is definitely amiss. The neurotransmitter serotonin has a big part to play in GI issues, so it’s important to get rid of any parasites post-haste.
There might be some nausea associated with fixing any problems with your digestive system. To fight GI issues when taking parasite cleansing supplements from Microbe Formulas, use aloe or ginger to calm your digestive system. If you’re dealing with diarrhoea, activated charcoal can help with the binding of your stools. Other issues like fibromyalgia also seem to result in a higher incidence of depression in sufferers. It is important to get blood tested regularly to nip any issues before they become large enough to have perceptible effects on mental health.
The effects of sunlight on mental health
Sunlight catalyses the production of vitamin D in the body which is thought to help balance mood. Staying inside and not getting adequate sunlight is therefore correlated with a huge reduction in mood. This relationship is thought to be at least partly responsible for the seasonal depression many people in colder climates go through every winter. So this makes it important to soak up the sun when necessary to keep yourself healthy and happy.
Besides the effects on the lungs that smoking has that results in less oxygen circulating throughout the body, there are some ramifications on mental health from smoking as well. It is thought that quitting smoking has as much of a positive effect on mental health as a course of antidepressants. There are nicotinic receptors in the brain that have a lot to do with proper mental functioning, the effect of nicotine long term changes how well these receptors can function.
A drink here or there isn’t going to result in emotional ruin, but consistent drinking will negatively affect a person’s mental state. Eventually, the small boost in mood that comes from drinking will give way to massive mental breakdowns and emotional instability that can last for days after a session of binge drinking. It is of the utmost importance to keep tabs on your drinking habits and make sure that it doesn’t border of excessive. Drinking can also take resources away from other parts of the body to help deal with the strain associated with processing ethanol, leaving less of those resources around for brain-related jobs.
Sleep is yet another important physical activity that’s required to maintain positive mental health. A full eight hours sleep is necessary to help the body rest, recover, and process a day’s worth of physical and mental stimuli. Without enough rest and relaxation the body will begin to break down bit by bit, resulting in lower concentration, lower moods, and in general a worse go of things in daily life.
All of these points show that maintaining a proper physical health regimen will pay dividends as far as keeping your mental health in check. The brain is a physical organ, so it should be taken care of like any other organ of the body. Proper nutrition, exercise, and other miscellaneous lifestyle choices are essential if someone wants to remain at the top of their game. Neglecting the body will have negative effects on the mind and vice-versa, life is a very delicate balancing act between the two. Safe to say, it isn’t easy to be at your physical & mental peak, but it’s entirely possible and insanely worth it.
Peter Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.