Nutrition and Exercise Tips to Improve Mental Health from NYC Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer

Depression and Nutrition

Mental health problems aren’t just “in people’s heads.” In fact, worldwide, over 300 million people suffer from depression. To put it in perspective, that’s the entire population of the United States.

Everything from work and home environment, genetics, life experiences, as well as food and exercise affect our mental health. And though I recognize some things are out of our control, there are some things we can do, steps we can take, to improve our mental health.

The adage “you are what you eat” doesn’t only deal with our physical state. It is critical to understand the connection between nutrition and mental illness. According to a journal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nutrition can also play a key role in the onset, duration and severity of depression.

Nutritional psychiatry is a growing trend that, hopefully, is here to stay. A burgeoning branch of medicine, nutritional neuroscience, is also helping us understand how nutrition is inextricably tied to cognition, behavior and emotions. Though I can’t say an anti-depression nutrition and exercise plan will cure all mental illnesses, it is important to note that both nutrition and exercise are key components to becoming healthier.

Here are 7 tips for better mental health through nutrition and exercise.

  1. Call for help. If you feel like you or a loved one are suffering from depression or other mental health illnesses, call for help. You are not alone.
    1. Call 911 in case of an emergency.
    2. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    3. Crisis Text Line: Text “NAMI” to 741-741
    4. Information you should have available: any prescription medications and doses being taken, any non-prescription medications and doses, contact name.
  2. Depression and NutritionGot a gut feeling? There’s a lot more to that phrase we are aware of. Prebiotics and probiotics keep our intestinal tracts healthy, combatting allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and more. Gut health = brain health because 95% of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in our guts. So … a healthy GI tract produces more serotonin which, in turn, lowers anxiety and stress.
  3. Get your serotonin boost with leafy greens, turkey, pumpkin seeds, nuts and eggs. (If it weren’t for the family, Thanksgiving dinner would be incredibly relaxing.)
  4. Depression and NutritionDrink your troubles away. Okay. Not really drink (we’re not Hemingway). But drink – hydrate! Our brains are 80% liquid, and we need to keep them hydrated. Set a clock alarm. Keep a water bottle with lemon at your desk. Do what you can to drink … all day long.
  5. Get lots of O’s: 😊 Omega-3s and fatty acids from chia and flax seeds, salmon, walnuts and more are essential to brain function. In fact, a deficiency in Omega-3 is associated with a myriad of mental illnesses including ADHD, depression, bi-polar disorder and more. So that chia fad isn’t just for hipsters and I-gens.
  6. Run away from your problems. Contrary to what most psychologists say, running away from your problems might be part of the answer. Take it one step at a time. Walk to the mailbox, to the corner. Listen to music and commit to moving through a playlist. Set achievable goals – two songs, three songs – and work up from there.  Depression and mental illness physically suck the energy from people. This is not imagined. Exercise boosts blood circulation. This has an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, in turn, on a person’s physiologic reactivity to stress. Movement improves mental health.
  7. Step away from the sweets: Depression and other mental illnesses often come hand-in-hand with an increased desire for sweets Too much sugar and highly processed food often replaces healthier nutrients with vitamins and minerals that can support mental health. It can also result in unwanted weight gain and spiral into an unhealthy depression cycle. Eat clean and get healthy.

Healthy eating and exercise habits are one way to battle mental health and stress. October 10th is World Mental Health Day. The goal is to inform and educate so that families, workplaces, and communities can affect change and make mental health a priority. It all starts with what’s on your plate.