Mastering the methods that can boost your mental health should be a daily occurrence, and not reserved for Mental Health Awareness month, but May is as greater time as any to take stock of our lifestyles and ask ourselves if we are nurturing our minds with the level of care that we deserve.
Here, M&F takes a look at 5 ways that you can make positive changes to your mental health today, by focussing on the mind-body connection, and maintaining homeostasis.
Small steps can boost your mental health by leaps and bounds.
When we are suffering with poor mental health our motivation levels suffer, leading us to feel even worse because of our inactivity. The idea that getting out of our comfort zone is great for our long term happiness is a proven concept, and a study conducted back in 2005 reviewed more than 275,000 people across 225 studies to show that those who sought out new life goals were more likely to feel positive emotions and enjoy greater self-confidence.
The good news is that making a positive change today can start with just the smallest of steps. A simple daily walk forces you to get off the couch and carry your own bodyweight, reducing the risk of high blood pressure, not to mention the self confidence boosting effects of increasing muscle and endurance, while losing fat. And, when you are ready to take the next step, try interval walking where you undertake short bursts of walking above your normal pace, followed by a period of walking at your normal level. You’ll throw away that brain fog in no time, feeling sharper and more positive. Heck, even your memory will improve. “My lab tested the benefits for memory by enrolling 64 sedentary but cognitively healthy seniors in our community-based program held at our local seniors’ gym; the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence (PACE),” says Dr Jennifer Heisz, an expert in brain health and Director of the NeuroFit Lab. Exercise sessions were supervised, three times per week for 12 weeks. As the participants’ fitness improved, we increased the speed or incline of the treadmill to achieve the target intensity. After just 12 weeks of interval walking, the seniors’ memory had improved by 30%, and this better memory was directly related to their fitness gains. During the harder intervals, you’ll know you’re working hard enough when it becomes difficult for you to carry on a conversation; researchers call this the ‘Talk Test’.”
Move Your Myokines To Boost Your Mental Health
We’ve all heard of the ‘runners high’, experienced as a result of the endorphins released by the brain when we exercise intensely, but medical science is also discovering that your muscles also secrete chemicals that may be of benefit to your mental health.
“When we exercise, our muscles release these amazing factors called myokines, which facilitate crosstalk between the muscles and other organs of the body including the brain,” says Dr Jennifer Heisz.” Myokines are proteins that are released by our muscle cells following their contraction. There are thought to be more than 100 different myokines, with more being identified all the time, and their benefits appear to include improved metabolic function, tissue repair and brain health.
“Myokines provide a mechanism through which exercising can impact brain function to alter mood and cognition,” says Dr Heisz. “One way that myokines impact brain function is by reducing systemic inflammation. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with drug-resistance depression, whose low mood is linked to high levels of inflammation.”
Your Gut Health Can Boost Your Mental Health
The alimentary canal (the walls in the long tube of your gut), is often described as the “second brain” and is thought to play a role in our emotional wellbeing. Therefore, it stands to reason that looking after our gut health will have a positive impact on our overall happiness.
“Good gut health and function is dependent on a number of things,” says Dr Bill Cole, the founder of Key Cellular Nutrition and the Cellular Health Accelerator Program. “For one, a healthy gut lining acts as a barrier keeping things out of the gut that should stay out, and also keeping things in that aren’t supposed to leave. A leaky gut, otherwise known as intestinal permeability, is epidemic in our society. That’s where damage to the gut lining creates microscopic holes that allow things like undigested proteins, toxins, bacteria and viruses to flood the bloodstream. This can create an immune response that can lead to autoimmune conditions and chronic inflammation throughout the body. Leaky guts can be caused by a poor diet, too much stress and certain medications such as antibiotics.
Eating a whole food diet, consisting of things like grass fed meats and organic meats, wild fish, pastured chicken and eggs, raw dairy products, organic fruits and vegetables is one of the very best things we can do to help heal damaged guts. Taking probiotics and eating raw fermented vegetables will also help to repopulate the gut with good bacteria. One tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water before a meal or two each day can aid in digestion and with healing as well. Additionally, L-glutamine powder, an amino acid, has been shown to help heal the gut lining too. The benefits of a healthy gut are numerous. Science is showing that Hippocrates, who is the father of modern medicine, may have been on to something since he believed that all disease begins with an unhealthy gut. I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but almost 40 years in the health field has shown me that so many conditions have their basis in an unhealthy gut.”
Get a Good Night’s Sleep For Mind And Body
If your mom always said, “Things will look better after a good nights sleep,” then she was really on to something. Exercise and great shuteye go hand-in-hand when it comes to maintaining a strong mind and body.
“The more we move during the day, the better we sleep at night,” says Dr Heisz. “This is because exercise breaks down ATP (the cellular energy currency) into adenosine, which is sensed by the brain and triggers sleep. As we get older, we are more likely to experience symptoms of insomnia, which include difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. We may spend less time in deep sleep, which means the brain has less time to be refreshed or recharged at night, and this makes it harder for us to think and feel good the next day. Scheduling exercise at the same time every day can help synchronize your circadian rhythm so you fall asleep faster. You can also exercise depending on your chronotype. For example, ‘night owls’ who want to wake up earlier can try exercising in the morning or early afternoon, whereas “morning larks” can try exercising in the evening.
Boost Your Metabolism While Boosting Your Mental Health
If sleep isn’t hitting the spot when it comes to rejuvenating your energy levels, make sure you power up with the right nutrients, and don’t overload yourself with highly processed comfort foods that will leave you feeling lethargic after that initial rush. “Hormones play a very significant role in our energy levels,” says Dr Cole. “As an example, the hormone insulin is responsible for driving glucose into the cell which is an important fuel source.
Additionally, the thyroid hormone; T3 is our major metabolic hormone. When produced in sufficient amounts, T3 can enter the cells it’s responsible for, increasing metabolism. The metabolism is the chemical reaction in the cell that turns food into energy, so the person will have good energy, lose weight more easily, and gain good gut and brain function. The old saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away may not be entirely true but it points to something that is: Whole natural foods and a healthy lifestyle can immensely mitigate the need for doctors’ visits and medications as we age. Our ace in the hole is that we have a body designed for health and healing. Science calls it homeostasis. It’s our bodies natural ability to adapt to ever changing internal and external environments. We can create the environment in us that supports homeostasis or we can create an environment that interferes with that.”