Mastering the methods that can boost your mental health should be a daily event and not reserved for Mental Health Awareness Month, but May is a better time than any other to take stock of our lifestyle and embrace wondering if we are cultivating our minds with the level of care we deserve.
Here, M&F takes a look at 5 ways you can make positive changes in your mental health today by focusing on the mind-body connection and maintaining homeostasis.
Small steps can increase your sanity by leaps and bounds.
When we suffer from poor mental health, our motivation suffers, making us feel even worse about our inactivity. The idea that stepping out of our comfort zone is great for our long-term happiness is a time-tested concept, and a study conducted back in 2005 looked at more than 275,000 people in 225 studies to show those who were seeking new life goals , who are more likely to feel positive emotions and enjoy more self-confidence.
The good news is that positive change can begin today with just the smallest of steps. A simple daily walk forces you to get off the couch and carry your own body weight, reducing the risk of high blood pressure, not to mention the confidence-boosting effects of increasing muscle and endurance while shedding fat. And when you're ready to take the next step, try interval walking, where you do short bursts of walking above your normal pace, followed by a phase of walking at your normal level. You'll ditch that brain fog in no time and feel sharper and more positive. Heck, even your memory will improve. “My lab tested the memory benefits by enrolling 64 sedentary but cognitively healthy seniors in our community-based program conducted at our local seniors' gym; the Physical Activity Center of Excellence (PACE)," says Dr. Jennifer Heisz, brain health expert and director of the NeuroFit Lab. Exercise sessions were monitored three times a week for 12 weeks. As participants' fitness improved, we increased the speed or incline of the treadmill to meet the target intensity. After just 12 weeks of interval walking, the seniors' memory had improved by 30%, and this improved memory was directly related to their fitness gains. In the tougher intervals, when it becomes difficult for you to have a conversation, you'll know you're working hard enough. Researchers call this the 'speech test'.”
Move your myokines to increase your sanity
We've all heard of the "runner's high," which occurs as a result of the endorphins the brain releases during intense exercise, but medical science is also discovering that your muscles also secrete chemicals that can benefit your mental health.
"When we exercise, our muscles release these amazing factors called myokines, which facilitate communication between muscles and other organs in the body, including the brain," says Dr. Jennifer Heisz.” Myokines are proteins that are released by our muscle cells after they contract. There are thought to be more than 100 different myokines and more are being identified all the time, and their benefits appear to include improved metabolic function, tissue repair and brain health.
"Myokines provide a mechanism by which exercise can affect brain function to alter mood and cognition," says Dr. heating “One of the ways myokines affect brain function is by reducing systemic inflammation. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with drug-resistant depression, whose low mood is associated with high levels of inflammation.”
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Your gut health can boost your mental health
The alimentary canal (the walls in the long tube of your intestines) is often referred to as the "second brain" and is said to play a role in our emotional well-being. So it stands to reason that taking care of our gut health has a positive impact on our overall happiness.
"Good gut health and function depends on a number of things," says Dr. Bill Cole, Founder of Key Cellular Nutrition and the Cellular Health Accelerator Program. “For one thing, a healthy gut lining acts as a barrier, keeping things out of the gut that should stay out, and also keeping things in that shouldn't go. A leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is an epidemic in our society. There, damage to the lining of the gut creates microscopic holes that allow things like undigested proteins, toxins, bacteria, and viruses to enter the bloodstream. This can create an immune response that can lead to autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation throughout the body. Leaky guts can be caused by a poor diet, too much stress, and certain medications like antibiotics.
Eating a whole foods diet consisting of things like grass-fed and organic meats, wild fish, grass-fed chicken and eggs, raw dairy, organic fruits and vegetables is one of the best things we can do to heal damaged guts. Taking probiotics and eating raw fermented vegetables also help repopulate the gut with good bacteria. A tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water before a meal or two each day can aid in digestion and healing as well. Additionally, L-glutamine powder, an amino acid, has been shown to help heal the gut lining as well. The benefits of a healthy gut are numerous. Science shows that Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, may have stumbled upon something as he believed that all disease begins with an unhealthy gut. I don't know if that's entirely true, but almost 40 years in the healthcare field have taught me that so many diseases have their roots in an unhealthy gut.”
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Get a good night's sleep for your mind and body
If your mom used to say, "Everything looks better after a good night's sleep," then she was really looking for something. Exercise and good sleep 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. heating "That's because exercise breaks down ATP (the cellular energy currency) into adenosine, which is sensed by the brain and triggers sleep. The older we get, the more likely we are to experience insomnia symptoms, which include difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. We may spend less time in deep sleep, which means the brain has less time at night to refresh or recharge, and this makes it harder for us to think and feel good the next day. Exercising at the same time each day can help sync your circadian rhythm so you fall asleep faster. You can also train depending on your chronotype. For example, "night owls" who like to get up earlier can exercise in the morning or early afternoon, while "morning larks" can exercise in the evening.
Increase your metabolism while boosting your mental health
If sleep isn't the way to go when it comes to rejuvenating your energy levels, make sure you're loading up on the right nutrients and don't overload yourself with highly processed comfort foods that will leave you lethargic after that initial rush. "Hormones play a very important role in our energy levels," says Dr. Cole. “For example, the hormone insulin is responsible for transporting glucose into the cell, which is an important source of energy.
In addition, the thyroid hormone; T3 is our main metabolic hormone. When T3 is produced in sufficient quantities, it can enter the cells it is responsible for and boost metabolism. Metabolism is the chemical reaction in the cell that converts food into energy, allowing the person to have good energy, lose weight more easily, and gain good gut and brain function. The old adage about an apple a day that keeps the doctor away might not be entirely true, but it points to something that is: Whole natural foods and a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the need for doctor visits and medication as we age. Our trump card is that we have bodies designed for health and healing. Science calls it homeostasis. It is our body's natural ability to adapt to ever-changing internal and external environments. We can create the environment within ourselves that supports homeostasis, or we can create an environment that disrupts it.”