We all know that good mental health goes hand in hand with physical wellness, yet our modern lifestyle is not exactly conducive to physical health. We live time-poor lives, and therefore efficiency and convenience are often put before making healthy choices: We drive to work instead of walking, we reach for the chocolate bar or burger instead of a salad or homemade lunch, and we’re so exhausted after a 10 hour day behind the desk that we get home, order take out and zone out in front of the TV.
The cost of neglecting physical health is that we feel more sluggish, irritable, and find it hard to concentrate. Our self-esteem and confidence are impacted as we start to feel like our bodies are our own enemies. We can’t show up as the best versions of ourselves for our family, our partners, or at work. The good news is that we can break the cycle. We can make lifestyle changes that are not expensive, complicated or time-consuming. Here are some effective and evidence-based lifestyle practices that are known to improve physical and mental health.
Fact: Studies have found that exercise is just as effective as medication for relieving anxiety and depression
Moving for just 15 minutes a day has been shown to ease depression and anxiety. The good news is that you don’t have to join a gym or do high-intensity exercise. Just put on some shoes and walk around your neighbourhood. Bonus points if you can spend time in nature as spending time in natural environments is known to have added benefits to mental health. Find an exercise that works for you and you actually enjoy, because then you will be more likely to stick to it.
Fact: Eating a diet with plenty of whole foods, fruits and vegetables have mental health benefits
Eating a healthy diet is known to reduce inflammation, and improve sleep, energy, concentration, and of course, mental health.
Instead of thinking “I can’t eat that”, just focus on adding in more fresh foods and aim to always have at least half a plate of vegetables with your meal. Reach for a piece of fruit to keep your energy levels up through the afternoon slump. As the brain is an organ made almost entirely of fat, eating plenty of healthy fats from foods like nuts, avocados, and oily fish increases brain function and mood.
Fact: Mindfulness has numerous benefits for mental health, but that doesn’t mean you have to meditate every day
There’s a common misconception that mindfulness means sitting on a cushion and meditating every day. Well, that’s only one way to do it, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you. What mindfulness really means is being present and aware of what you are doing, without distractions or being on “auto-pilot”. This could mean going for a walk without headphones, giving a favourite activity your full attention, like cooking or gardening, or just pausing to take a few deep, slow breaths throughout the day.
Remember: The key to any new habit is to start slow and steady. Try not to be discouraged if you take a few steps forward, and a few steps back. Celebrate the small wins and give yourself credit for the progress you have made.