Mental Health linked to Diet and Exercise

We’ve all heard the eat right and exercise for better health spiel at least twice in our lives (probably more). Whether it’s a conversation between you and your doctor or one that you’ve had with a parent, we all understand the importance of adopting healthy habits to improve our physical well-being. 

However, have you ever considered the importance healthy lifestyle choices can have on your mental health? Oftentimes, mental health problems are associated with outside factors like trauma or family history but aren’t the only things that can influence your mental health.

While those two points play a crucial role in mental fortitude, so does what you put into your body and how you take care of it. Let’s delve a little deeper into how factors such as exercise, diet, and self-care can play a role in mental health.

1. Diet & Nutrition

Cause mood fluctuations

For most, the correlation between diet and mental health isn’t always an obvious one. But there is a relationship nonetheless, as unhealthy eating patterns can cause mood swings, according to Mental Health First Aid. While hangry is a funny term, for some people, it’s more than that. Not having access to food consistently can severely impact a person’s mental health. Not having a basic necessity such as food or always wondering if you’ll be able to eat can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, stress, and more. Along with that, what you are consuming can directly influence your mood. Did you know that the amino acids found in proteins can help to regulate our thoughts and feelings? Seeing as our brain is largely made up of protein, making sure that we consume enough through our food is crucial to our brain health.

Influence energy levels

Have you ever had a meal that immediately just made you feel sluggish? That could’ve been because of two reasons. One, your portion size was too big. Or two, the quality of food that you ate wasn’t good. We’re going to address number two. Most processed foods, like pizza and burgers, have little to no nutritional value. They are high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories, while low in helpful things like fiber and protein. On the flip side, foods like strawberries, nuts, and brown rice are high in nutrients and can boost your energy levels. Energy is important when it comes to mental well-being as your livelihood is tied to having the energy and mental clarity to go to work, pay necessary bills and take care of other responsibilities.

Additional:

  • Sometimes it can be difficult to get all of the necessary nutrients from food. So try incorporating vitamins such as B12 to compensate. Speak to your physician first before trying.
  • If you are struggling to get proper meals, use this food pantry finder tool to help find a location nearby that can help you.

2. Self-Care

Stress

Stress is one of the leading causes of mental strain in individuals. It usually stems from family, work, health, or romantic relationships. While stress levels vary around the world, one common factor regarding stress is that people often have a hard time managing it. Without proper stress management skills, the probability of becoming overwhelmed to the point of a mental breakdown is higher. Not only that but according to Very Well Mind, excessive stress can shrink parts of your brain. That’s why self-care is crucial if you’re having a bad mental health day. It’s more than face masks and robes (although it can be that if you want). Self-care for mental health means taking legitimate time to cater to your needs, thoughts, wants, and feelings. Don’t underestimate the power of TLC and its ability to minimize the shear stress of what life brings.

Sleep

Beyond TLC, you need sleep. During sleep, your brain and your body get the time to recharge. Insomnia or other conditions that prevent you from getting quality sleep, essentially also prevent your brain from refreshing. Our brain affects how we function daily so you want to make sure that it is in tip-top shape. Every time you don’t get the proper amount of REM sleep, you are creating a world of problems for yourself. Lack of mental clarity is one of the main problems. Sleep deprivation can cause everything from mood swings to high blood pressure. Self-care can help with this, as doing activities you find relaxing can help you achieve enough mental peace to go to sleep.

Additional:

  • Lack of sleep or excessive stress can have underlying issues you may not realize. Discussing your situation with a psychiatrist online can recommend a personalized treatment to improve your situation.
  • To get more sleep, consider incorporating melatonin into your bedtime routine. You can find it at most places for relatively inexpensive. Getting blackout curtains or deep sleep music can work as well.

3 . Exercise

Serves as an outlet

One of the most important ways that exercise can influence your mental health is by serving as an outlet for your emotions. If you are struggling to keep afloat during tough times, exercise can give you a way to focus your energy on something else. While you’re at the gym or working out at home, your mind is occupied with a ton of different things. What machine you’ll use next, if your form is correct, or how long you want to do cardio are just a few common thoughts that run through a person’s mind when getting into some physical activity. Focusing on the mind-body connection when working out, doesn’t necessarily allow for thoughts on your personal life.

Mood booster

There’s a reason people have coined the term “runners high.” If you don’t know, runners high is the feeling of euphoria people get after having an intense run. That euphoria is really your body releasing endorphins. These hormones are responsible for that feeling of happiness you get after a great workout. The thing is, that healthy high isn’t only synonymous with running. You can achieve that feeling after most physical activities. Although it’s only temporary, that happiness (no matter how quick) can be the saving grace you need when you are struggling mentally. Exercising can give you something to look forward to and be that ray of light during dark moments.

Self-Esteem

For people whose mental distress stems from physical appearance and confidence, exercise can help you with that. Whether we like it or not, oftentimes our confidence is linked to our body shape. If you have an ideal goal in mind for how you’d like your body to be, with the right workout regimen, you can have your dream body sooner than you realize. Whether you’re trying to gain muscle or lose weight, plan workouts that can help you achieve your goals. The better you feel about yourself, the better your mental health can be. Having low self-esteem for an extended period can lead to depression, anxiety, and much more if you’re not careful. 


Keep in mind that you shouldn’t allow unrealistic body images reflected on social media to influence your decision. Work out for you and your health only, not for the validation of others. Your mental health matters more than someone else’s opinion.

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