The new year is here, and most of us are likely to have made at least one resolution for 2016. But while the majority of our goals for the coming year will incorporate improvements in physical health – such as hitting the gym and losing weight – have you thought about how you could improve your mental health?
The health website www.medicalnewstoday.com has compiled a really useful article looking at some practical methods to protect and improve your mental health in 2016.
Adopting a healthy diet: Most of us are aware that a healthy, balanced diet is beneficial for physical health. It can help with weight maintenance and protect against a range of illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes andcancer.
But following a healthy diet also has benefits for mental well-being. As the Mental Health Foundation state: “Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body.”
One of the healthiest diets is considered to be the Mediterranean diet, which incorporates high consumption of beans, nuts, cereals, seeds, plant-based foods and fruits. The diet is also low in saturated fat, includes moderate consumption of fish, poultry and dairy, and low consumption of meats and sugary foods.
There are also a number of foods and drinks that are associated with poor mental health. “The foods and drinks that most often cause problems are those containing sugar, artificial additives (E numbers) and caffeine, as spikes in our intake in these can be detrimental to our mental health,” Sam Challis, information manager of UK mental health charity Mind, told MNT.
High alcohol consumption has also been linked to increased risk of anxiety and depression, therefore mental health experts recommend limiting alcohol intake to promote good mental well-being.
Regular exercise: Physical activity is important for all aspects of health, including mental well-being. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
But you do not have to engage in long, dull sessions on the treadmill to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. In 2014, MNT reported on a study by researchers from the University of Michigan, which found that group nature walks could promote good mental well-being.
“Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise, and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster,” said study leader Dr. Sara Warber, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan, adding:
“Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”
“Being cooped up indoors or living a largely sedentary lifestyle both at the office and on the sofa at home can have a knock-on effect on mental health.
Get more sleep: It is common knowledge that sleep problems can affect our mental well-being. A 2010 study by researchers from the George Institute on Global Health in Australia found that people who have less than 5 hours sleep a night may be at higher risk of mental illness.
“Too little sleep over a sustained period can leave you vulnerable to developing mental health problems,” says Sam Challis. “Sleep problems – even quite mild ones – can damage your well-being and quality of life. Too little sleep over a sustained period can leave you vulnerable to developing mental health problems, but there are lots of things that you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.”
The Mayo Clinic recommend going to bed and getting up at the same time every day – even at the weekends and during holidays – as a routine can boost the body’s sleep-wake cycle, promoting a better night’s sleep.
A bedtime ritual – such as a warm bath or reading a book – may also encourage better sleep, as such rituals tell the body it is time to wind down. “Electrical screens, TVs, computers and phones all stimulate your brain, making it hard to relax, so it’s best to switch them off in advance, to help you switch off,” noted Challis.
Challis also told us that the sleep environment is important for a good night’s sleep, and that most people tend to sleep better in a cool, dark and quiet room. A high intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods in the evening can disrupt sleep patterns, so experts recommend limiting their use for a better night’s sleep.
More ways to boost your mental health in 2016 on the MNT website