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Healthy Habits Today Can Help Protect Mental Health Into the Future

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Healthy habits on a daily basis can increase your energy levels, mood, and immune strength in the short term and, as a bonus, also be protecting your future mental health. Exercise, sleep, social activity, adequate water, and a balanced diet can all add up to a good mood and health in the short term and protect against dementia or other health problems in the long term.


Exercise helps strengthen the body by providing the demand that signals a need for muscle, bone, and nerve growth. Physical action throughout the day helps move fluid through the blood and lymphatic vessels to be detoxified by the lymph nodes. Heart and lung power can increase with consistent exercise. Gradually increasing from short walks to longer walks is an easy way to start.

Spending time in full-spectrum light during awake hours can also benefit health. Time in nature or with images of nature can also help reduce stress effects on the body and improve mood.


During sleep, our body’s and brain activity slows down and cools down in temperature. Having a slightly cooler thermometer setting for sleep hours may benefit falling asleep and staying asleep. Complete darkness also helps with circadian cycles and melatonin production which helps health and mood. More fluid exchange occurs in the brain during sleep, bringing nutrients in and removing toxins that build up from normal metabolism.

How much is enough sleep varies for different people and at different ages. Around seven hours of sleep per night seems like a healthy average for adults. Toddlers and teenagers may need ten hours for optimum health. Young infants can sleep up to 16 hours per day, spread throughout the 24-hour day/night cycle.

Social activity

Mental and physical wellness can benefit from positive social relationships. Oxytocin and serotonin are positive mood hormones associated with health. Companionship, time spent enjoyably with friends, and family, or caring for pets, and possibly even house plants, can help increase levels of the good mood hormones. Conversation and puzzles or classes can also help keep you mentally alert over time.

Brain connections are lost from disuse with the forgetfulness of normal ageing. Remaining active and adding new hobbies can help keep brain connections in use and add new when learning new skills. Knowing or learning a second language can also help protect mental health and listening to music is also beneficial. Hobbies and feeling some purpose in life may be protective.


We are made with more water than any other nutrients. Water helps carry oxygen and nutrients in the circulating blood and helps remove toxins to be excreted by the kidneys. Nature gives us two kidneys possibly because they are so critical to health.

Having adequate water or other non-diuretic fluids is essential to kidney and brain health, and the rest of the body. Being dehydrated can cause irritability and distractibility, and eventually may cause feelings of disorientation if severely dehydrated. Starting the morning with a glass of water can help replace fluid we lose in the air we exhale during sleep.

Roughly drinking ounces of water/fluid equal to about half your body weight in pounds each day would provide adequate fluid – 75 ounces of water for a 150-pound adult would be about nine eight-ounce glasses or two refillable quart bottles of water and a bowl of soup at some meal of the day.

Balanced diet

A well-rounded diet might seem old fashioned, however, our bodies are still based on ancient designs. We need all the essential nutrients for health and some we need every day, throughout the day, like water. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are also considered macronutrients which we need throughout the day.

As we age, we tend to need more protein spread out more evenly throughout the day’s meals and within a variety of meals that adds up to slightly fewer calories than we needed when younger.

At different times, our bodies may also need more trace nutrients, such as during ageing, or at times of sickness or during increased emotional or physical stress.

Mixing foods that contain protein, carbohydrates and fats within meals and snacks can help slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates and promote stable blood sugar which protects against diabetes and may help protect the brain.

Choosing variety can help increase trace nutrients in the diet – the vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants found in plants and other foods. Adding more whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices to meals and snacks can also increase fibre intake which supports healthy digestion and our beneficial bacteria.

Our intestinal microbiome can affect mood, positively or negatively, and sometimes may affect appetite and weight gain. More plant foods can help promote more of the beneficial species and the fibre content also helps protect against colon cancer.

Adding it up

Healthy habits can increase today’s good mood and may help protect the good memory long into the future. The circadian cycles of the body help promote healing and repair during sleep hours.

Full-spectrum light during the day and adequate hours of sleep in complete darkness or with an eye mask can help promote the hormones and other changes that occur between the sleep and wake stages of the 24-hour circadian cycle. Exercise and social activity, adequate water and a balanced diet, all help add up to daily health in the short term and hopefully protect against chronic or mental illness over the long term.

Jennifer Depew is a registered dietitian with public health experience in prenatal and early childhood counselling. 

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