How Exercise and Nutrition Support Your Mental Health
May 1, 2019
In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month in May, it’s time to talk about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle that go far beyond what your body looks like — the benefits that support your mental well-being.
Current research tells us that working out and eating nutritious foods doesn’t just make you healthy, but it also improves your mindset on life, giving you a better chance of warding off symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Here’s how exercise supports the mental state …
Exercise produces endorphins.
When you work out, your brain releases feel-good endorphins, which are chemicals that move through the nervous system and have a sedative effect, reducing your perception of pain and offering a euphoric feeling. Someone with a regular workout routine will carry this feeling with them multiple days a week, keeping a more calm and positive outlook.
Exercise encourages confidence.
Regular exercise and working toward a fitness goal will help you to gain confidence and feel good about the progress you are making, every time you lift a little bit more weight, try a new exercise move, run for a few minutes longer or even see aesthetic improvements. Each little step forward will give you a dose of pride, so you’re excited to keep working and moving.
Exercises gives you a positive means of coping.
Working out, attending group fitness classes and meeting with a personal trainer are positive steps you can take toward improving your overall wellness and mental health. These activities give you something healthy on the agenda a few times a week to keep your mind occupied and help you cope with any anxious or depressing feelings that could arise. Not to mention, active people are busy people, and busy people don’t have much time to waste on unhealthy habits that can lead to feeling bad both physically and mentally.
But it’s not all about exercise. A healthy diet can also fend off the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How’s how nutrition supports the mental state …
Certain foods boost serotonin.
Nutritious foods that contain a lot of vitamins and minerals also help support the transmission of dopamine and serotonin in the brain and the gut as well. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that help with happiness, well-being, and pleasure. Some of the best heart-and-brain healthy foods include fatty fish like salmon, spinach, eggs, lean proteins like chicken and turkey and even eggs and pumpkin seeds.
A healthy gut connects to a healthy brain.
There have been more and more studies connecting the state of the gut with the functioning of the brain, particularly with anxiety levels. (Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? That’s proof that the mind and stomach are intertwined.) When you eat fermented foods like sauerkraut or food with active cultures like yogurt, you’re giving your stomach good bacteria, which helps it to stay balanced and run smoothly, thus sending a positive signal to your brain and supporting a less anxious state. On the flip side, when you eat too many processed or packaged goods with artificial chemicals, this can negatively affect the bacteria in your gut throwing it out of balance.
Preparing and eating healthy food is self-care.
One of the biggest things that eating healthy and nutritious foods does for your mind is that you actually go through the process of seeking out, cooking and consuming nutrient-dense meals as a form of self-care. Overall, we feel so much better about ourselves when we’re taking time to do things that support our holistic health, and that certainly applies to your mental well-being, in addition to your physical well-being.
Focusing on positive and healthy habits like regular exercise and eating right will do nothing but make you stronger and ready to take on life. If you’re looking to start a healthy workout routine and would like a little help along the way, check out Fitness Together®. The hardest part of any lifestyle change is getting started, and our expert personal trainers are here to help you over that hurdle. Fitness Together pairs you with a personal trainer in a private setting and a workout plan tailored just for you. Find a Fitness Together near you and get started today!