Eating balanced, nutritious meals and exercising is often associated with your physical health but eating properly and maintaining your fitness can also help keep your mind healthy. What you’re consuming can affect the structure and function of your brain, as well as your mood. Because food fuels your mind, you need to be mindful of what you’re consuming.
Similar to a new car, your brain functions best when it is given high quality fuel — in other words, food. When you choose to consume foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, your brain can perform at an optimal level. When you eat a balanced and nutritious diet, you’re giving your brain premium fuel to protect it from oxidative stress (waste), which can damage cells.
Processed and refined foods can be considered “low-premium” fuel that may damage your brain because the brain has little ability to eliminate them. People who eat a lot of sugar are harming their brain because the excessive sugar can negatively impact the body's regulation of insulin. Refined sugars can also cause inflammation and oxidation stress.
When your brain is deprived of quality nutrition, free radicals, or waste, circulate within the brain potentially causing additional brain tissue injuries.
How Food Can Affect Your Mood
About 95 percent of serotonin — the neurotransmitter that helps regulate your appetite, sleep, moods and inhibits pain — is produced in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract is lined with millions of nerve cells so your digestive system not only digests the food you consume but it can affect how you feel. It is suggested that people who take probiotics experience reduced anxiety and levels of stress and have a better mental outlook.
Comparisons of traditional diets, like Japanese or Mediterranean diets, with“Western” diets revealed that the chances of someone experiencing depression were 25 to 35 percent lower for individuals on traditional diets. Japanese and Mediterranean diets are typically high in vegetables, fruit, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and only contain moderate amounts of meats and dairy which can be harder on the digestive system. More importantly, these ways of eating do not contain any large amounts of processed or refined foods and sugars, and a lot of the unprocessed food is fermented, which act naturally as probiotics.
Research has also found that foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can provide multiple benefits for your brain function, including learning ability and memory, and can help to fight against mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia and dementia.
Exercising Your Mental Health
Most people exercise or hit the gym to build muscle and keep fit, but by taking the time to participate in regular exercise, you can also stay mentally fit as well. You may already be familiar with how exercise can benefit your body but you may not know how working out can benefit your mind. Some examples of how exercise can improve your mental health include:
- Reduces Stress. If you’ve had a bad day at the office or school, you may head to gym to blow off some steam. One of the most common ways to relieve stress is to exercise. Working out can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercising can also increase levels of norepinephrine, the chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress. By exercising, you’ll help your mind reduce stress and deal with existing mental tension.
- Boosts Endorphins.Running on an endless loop inside a gym can be rough but it’s definitely worth the effort. Working out releases endorphins which produce feelings of happiness and euphoria. Doctors suggest exercising just 30 minutes a day, so you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to help boost your mood and maintain mental fitness.
- Prevents Cognitive Decline.As we age, our minds tend to get a little hazy. As we age our brains shrink, especially if you develop a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's. There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s and it is not suggested that exercising can cure the disease, but it can help the brain bulk up against cognitive decline. Exercising, especially between ages 25 and 45, can boost the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of memory and learning ability.
- Boosts Brain Power. Several studies have reported that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells — also known as neurogenesis — and improve the overall performance of the brain. Working out increases levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in your body. BDNF helps the brain with decision making, thinking and learning at higher levels.
- Alleviates anxiety. Doctors suggest that a 10 minute walk can be just as beneficial as a 45 minute workout for decreasing feelings of anxiety. There’s also research that supports that people who are more active have lower rates of anxiety and depression compared to people who are less active.
- Helps Control Addiction.Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that is released in response to most forms of pleasure like exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol or food. Unfortunately dopamine is what often causes addictions, substances like drugs and alcohol often produce increases of dopamine which leads to substance use disorders. Short periods of exercise can be a great way for people in recovery to still experience dopamine or use it as a way to cope with their new way of life.
- Be productive. If you are feeling uninspired a solution could be a short jog or walk to get the creative juices flowing. Researchers suggest that people who take time out of their day to exercise regularly are more productive and have more energy than those people who are less active.
Sometimes you may feel unmotivated or find it difficult to start exercise, especially if you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health disorders. When implementing a new exercise routine, it’s important to start with small, attainable goals. You can start with 10 to 15 minute walks and work your way up to more rigorous workouts. Starting with smaller goals can help you achieve them and boost your motivation to set bigger ones.
While nutrition and fitness can influence and improve your overall health, it’s important to remember that they are not substitutes for treatment for mental health disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, recovery is possible. Michigan Brain Health and Johnson Chiropractic Neurology & Nutrition has a local referral list of mental health professionals in the Oakland and Macomb County area that we know and trust.
At Michigan Brain Health, we help people struggling with ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, insomnia, mild cognitive impairment and mild traumatic brain injury and concussion using a unique drug-free approach. By combining healthy dietary recommendations, functional nutritional help, exercise recommendations, EWOT along with neurofeedback and/or heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback, we help you optimize your brain function so you can enjoy live at it fullest.
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Always remember one of my mantras., "The more you know about how your body works, the better you can take care of yourself."
For more details about the natural approach I take with my patients, take a look at the book I wrote entitled: Reclaim Your Life; Your Guide To Revealing Your Body's Life-Changing Secrets For Renewed Health. It is available in my office or at Amazon and many other book outlets. If you found value in this article, please use the social sharing icons at the top of this post and please share with those you know who are still suffering with chronic health challenges, despite receiving medical management. Help me reach more people so they may regain their zest for living! Thank you!