The theme for May’s Mental Health Month 2018 is “Fitness #4Mind4Body”. In order to have optimal health, we have to take good care of our bodies as well as our minds. MentalHealthAmerica.net suggests several ways that changes in your lifestyle can help you on your personal journey towards health and wellness.
You will first need to consult with your primary care physician who can help you identify a wellness plan based on your health status. These wellness factors include:
- Diet and nutrition
- The gut-brain connection
Diet and nutrition
The importance of good nutrition begins during pregnancy. Women who eat a diet high in fried, processed and sugary foods during pregnancy are more likely to have children with emotional problems. Children, adolescents and young adults who eat unhealthy diets are more likely to have emotional problems and depression. A diet rich with whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish is recommended for good mental and physical health.
Living an active lifestyle is another way to promote wellness and good physical and mental health. You do not have to join a gym or purchase equipment to get the health benefits. Walking, standing and stretching all have health benefits. If you have been inactive for some time, you may want to start out slowly by simply increasing the number of steps you take.
The gut-brain connection
The gut, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, refers to all of your internal organs that are involved in digesting food and processing it into waste. This includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, intestine, colon and rectum.
The gut, sometimes referred to as “the second brain,” is responsible for the production of serotonin, which is a chemical in our brain that controls our mood. Poor gut health has been found to increase the risk of psychiatric, neurological and medical disorders. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods, beans and whole grains promotes “a healthier digestive system, which means a healthier you.” (med.nyu.edu)
Getting a good night’s sleep is another way to promote good emotional and physical health. There are a number of health benefits related to adequate sleep, and it also reduces the risk for several illnesses such as depression, anxiety, health disease and diabetes.
Although there is some variability in the amount of sleep a person requires, most adults need between seven and nine hours each night. Babies, children and teens need even more. School-aged children need nine to 11 hours while teens need eight to 10.
Some of the things you can do to improve your sleep include: limit caffeine and alcohol, don’t exercise within two to three hours of bedtime, don’t nap, and set a sleep schedule. The body responds best if you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. It is also recommended that you don’t use electronics within one hour of bedtime.
Stress is a common occurrence and often comes and goes. It is when you experience chronic stress that your emotional, mental and physical health can suffer. Constant stress over a long period of time increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and gastrointestinal disorders. It can also lower your immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
Talking with others who are supportive, eating a healthy diet, practicing relaxation, meditation or deep breathing, and journaling are a few ways to manage stress. If you continue to struggle, discuss what is happening with your therapist or primary care physician.
Making changes to your lifestyle can be difficult. Each year, between 40-45 percent of adults in America make New Year’s resolutions. The top three resolutions are to lose weight, exercise and stop smoking. Less than 50 percent still maintain these resolutions six months later.
Mentalhealthamerica.net has a list of worksheets that can help you make changes to your diet, exercise, sleep and management of stress. Starting small, setting realistic short-term and long-terms goals, and getting support can help with the process of change. It can also be helpful to write these goals down and review and revise regularly as you make progress.
Stop by the NorthPoint clinic and human services lobby Tuesdays and Thursdays in May for educational materials about improving your mental and physical health. Staff will be available to share about the mental health and chemical health services that are available at NorthPoint.
NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center is located at 1313 Penn Ave. N., Minneapolis. Or contact us at 612-543-2500.
Dr. Deirdre Golden, director of behavioral health at NorthPoint Health & Wellness, welcomes reader responses to 612-543-2705.