Feeling blue? Curled up into a ball? Bingeing on a bar of chocolate? Get up and move around, because chocolate won’t solve your problems!
You can, however, use healthy food and exercise to keep your stress & anxiety levels in check and boost your mental health.
Nearly 5% of India’s population suffers from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, and 1-2% are battling severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to a report by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, 2005. Although most discussions about wellness revolve around the impact exercise and a balanced diet have on physical health, there’s a growing awareness about the role they play in improving emotional well-being as well.
What you eat can guide your moods
Our brain requires a constant supply of fuel, which comes from the food we eat. So it stands to reason that what we eat directly affects the structure and function of our brain and, ultimately, our mood. Eating high-quality food that contains a lot of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, nourish the brain. On the other hand, diets high in refined sugars or processed food are harmful to the brain and can lead to mood disorders such as depression. Also, almost 90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps mediate moods, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, so it makes sense that a person’s digestive system doesn’t just help digest food, but also guides emotions. As HealthifyMe nutritionist Pragati Kapoor puts it, “Good food has the power to cheer you up. All you need is a mix of different nutrients and in no time your mood will change! It also helps in overcoming depression” she says.
Some nutrients that are essential for mental health include:
- Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids — found in salmon, walnuts, flax seeds and soya beans — provide many benefits, including improving learning and memory and helping to fight against such mental disorders as depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.
- Low levels of iron can lead to feelings of fatigue, apathy and depression, so be sure to include oatmeal, raisins, leafy vegetables and lentils in your diet.
- Zinc helps decrease depressive symptoms, so load up on foods like pumpkin seeds, kidney beans (rajma) and spinach to balance your mood.
- Magnesium plays a large role in the development of serotonin. Fish, leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, bananas and dark chocolate are all rich in magnesium.
- Increasing Vitamin D, found in eggs and milk, can help ward off depression.
- Vitamin B12 allows the body to synthesise a group of nutrients critical for normal neurological function, which in turn helps regulate depression. Meat and eggs are the main source of B12.
It’s important to remember that mood and well-being can only be protected by ensuring that one’s diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water. “It’s not about depriving yourself of any food but ensuring you eat everything in the right, rather – balanced manner” says Pragati.
Exercise can help keep depression and anxiety at bay
Contrary to what people say, remember exercise is not just about losing weight. Several studies have shown that a regular exercise program can improve mood in people with depression.
Exercise enhances the action of endorphins – chemicals that improve the body’s immunity, reduces pain and improves mood. It also offers health benefits such as lower blood pressure, protect against heart disease and cancer, and boosts self-esteem.
“Exercise creates a great, positive impact on the body and helps keep depression and anxiety at bay” says HealthifyMe fitness trainer Uttam Kumar. Just about 250-350 minutes of exercise a week, as recommended by the American Council of Sports Medicine, can do wonders by tackling depressing thoughts and relieving stress. “It is the perfect ‘nutrition’ the blood needs for the release of endorphins that take you towards a positive and happy frame of mind. Just a few sessions and you will start feeling good about yourself. You’ll feel more confident and capable of fighting not just negative thoughts but even metabolic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, etc”, he says.
Mental health can also be improved, to a great extent, through proper breathing, says HealthifyMe yoga expert Pragya. “All yogic asanas and meditation exercises focus on the way you breathe. They teach you how to feel calm and relaxed and this in turn takes you into a happy and positive state of the mind. Notice the way your breathing becomes heavy whenever you’re angry or anxious, and how your body reacts once you start meditating. The focus on long, deep breaths helps calm the body and reduces depression and anxiety”, she says.
Remember, a sound body leads to a sound mind. Our experts can help plan a balanced diet and exercise plan for you.