By age 40, about 50% of the Canadian population will have or have had a mental illness.
Everyone knows someone that has been affected by this. Being active is the number one thing you can do to change your overall health and it is no surprise that it helps your mental health too. Many studies have shown that simple activities such as walking are more effective in treating depression and anxiety than taking conventional medications. This blog will answer the questions of why you should use exercise to better your mental health, how to get motivated and how to stick to it.
How Exercise Helps Mental illness
Amazing chemical changes occur in our brain when we exercise. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention, improves mood, and brain circulation. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as medications such as anti-depressants, relaxants, Ritalin and Adderall. Exercise helps balance out these neurotransmitters and give us an overall improved positive attitude.
Exercise also promotes improved circulation and chemical changes in the brain that promote growth of nerve cells. This has direct impact for people with ADHD due to improved memory, mental clarity, and overall mood. Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning.
As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind. Getting your muscles working helps to break the cycle of tension created by stress and anxiety.
Exercise is also an injection of self confidence for most people. When you accomplish climbing that hill or looking at a weed free garden, a smile comes onto your face. Loosing pounds from working out also leaves a person feeling excited and proud.
How to Get Started
The first thing you need to know is that exercise doesn't just mean going to a gym and lifting weights and sweating half to death on a treadmill. Studies show that one of the most effective form of exercise for depression is simply going for a walk outdoors. Exercise can be light activities such as gardening, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, climbing stairs, and even fishing!
Another important fact is that you don't need to exercise for hours at a time or even every day. A recent large study published in The Lancet Psychiatry showed that exercising 45 minutes, 3 to five times a week is the sweet spot for the amount of exercise needed. Exercise performed in a team sport environment had the best results. Research also shows that short boughts of exercise, even 15 minutes at a time, still can have a significant impact on depression and anxiety.
How to Stick to it
Get yourself an exercise buddy and you will motivate each other to get active. Together, set goals for the week, for the month and for the year and have a reward for each goal reached.Goal setting needs to be gradual and realistic. Start small and build up. If you don’t achieve the goal re-evaluate and keep things flexible.
Keep it simple and do exercises that you like. If you hate running don't go out and buy a treadmill and end up using it for a clothing rack.
Get yourself an exercise tracker. It's amazing how those little electronic watches can motivate you to get up and get your steps in. You can go online with most of these devices and set up exercise challenges with your family or friends.
Track your mood. Journal and write down how you feel on a day that you exercise and log what you did and how much you did. Find out what is an ideal length of time for you to exercise. This method will also help you realize when you are having a bad day that the best thing to do is to get out and move!
Activity fact: playing sports 4 times a week decreases psychological stress by 47%
This month's articles have been on a variety of topics regarding nutrition and your health. To continue with this, I felt it was very important to address the facts about the fats that we eat. It can be very confusing when reading about what we should and shouldn't be eating and fats is definitely one of these topics! In the past we were told that when we eat fat we gain weight, and that our cholesterol will go up and our risk of cardiovascular disease increases. We have eliminated a lot of fat from the North American diet and all of these problems have increased. This has occurred mainly because we have eliminated the bad fats, but more importantly the good fats too, and replaced both of these with sugar. The truth is that fat is an essential part of our diet: it's a major source of energy, it helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals, it is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is also essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. It is important for your health to know there are different types of fats.
The worst type of dietary fats are trans fat. These can be from natural animal sources but most of it is a by-product of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids to give them longer shelf life and prevent them from becoming rancid. Food labels will list if trans fats are present but often trans fats are not listed and are hidden in the food and listed as "partially hydrogenated oil". These fats can be found in many foods including: fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarine's and other spreads. Trans fats are such a concern that the World Health Organization has called for the elimination of them by 2023. Many countries, including the USA have deemed them unhealthy for consumption and should be eliminated in your diet. Research has shown that even small amounts of artificial trans fats can increase the risk for heart disease by increasing LDL "bad" cholesterol and decreasing HDL "good" cholesterol. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines simply recommend keeping trans fats consumption as low as possible.
Saturated fats are also considered "bad fats" when consumed in excess. Saturated fats are the ones that are solid at room temperature. (think bacon grease) The American heart association recommends that 5-6% of total calories comes from Saturated fats. There has been recent studies that have shown natural sources of saturated fats do not raise your risk of heart disease and it is best to stay away from processed foods with saturated fats such as cured meats. It is shown in multiple studies that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats does lower risk of heart disease. More research is underway to determine the true risk of saturated fats.
Excessive intake of saturated fats is also associated with Alzheimer’s disease, poor blood viscosity, breast cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke and prostate cancer.
Unsaturated fats are the good guys and are found as liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fats that include polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can help improve your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. It may also help you control your insulin levels and blood sugar. , avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.
Polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring. They can be further divided into two types: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Your body needs polyunsaturated fats to function. This type of fat helps with muscle movement and blood clotting. Since your body doesn’t make it, you have to get it in your diet.
Careful when overheating high unsaturated fat oils as this can decrease their antioxidant abilities and produce free radicals that are harmful for our health.
Below is a great summary:
The biggest thing you can do is to choose healthy fats. And the only way to know what you are eating is to read the nutritional labels of your food. With Trans fats, seek foods with zero of these and watch for the hidden ones under the ingredient "hydrogenated vegetable oil". Food guidelines allow .5 grams of trans fats per serving and still allow the manufacturer to say that the product is "trans fat-free" so be careful as these can add up to be harmful. Good fats include sources like: Avocado, olives, salmon, mackerel, herring, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, eggs, and my favorite: dark chocolate. Avoid highly processed foods and most baked goods, french fries, margarine sticks, microwave popcorn, potato chips and vegetable shortening. A great resource to go to is the American heart Association. Make some small changes in your diet and have a huge change in your health!
Everyone knows that eating healthy helps you live longer by reducing risk of a variety of diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. But did you know that what you eat has a huge factor in how your brain functions. A good diet improves cognitive function, prevents Alzheimer's, decreases depression, and lowers anxiety. Your brain is always active, even when sleeping. If you feed it premium fuel, you will get top performance.
The Gut- Brain Axis
The gut and the brain are very closely connected chemically, hormonally and neurologically. This is called the Gut Brain Axis.
Have you ever had a "nervous tummy", the "butterfly's" of excitement? This is an example of the connection of the brain to the gut however, the gut also affects the brain through the production of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Seretonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a very important role in mood, pain, appetite, and sleep regulation. 95% of serotonin is made in the gut and there are approximately 500 million nerves that are located here. The main nerve pathway that connects the brain and the gut is the Vagus nerve.
Your gut microbes
The gut has an entire ecosystem in it made of trillions of microbes. These are natural occurring and are essential in digesting food, helping with immunity, protecting the lining of the gut, decreasing inflammation, and in the production of neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that when people take probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics. Other studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the “Western” dietary pattern. In addition, many of these unprocessed foods are fermented, and therefore act as natural probiotics.
Refined sugar probably has the greatest negative effect on mental health in the western world. People who consume high levels of refined sugars or high fructose corn syrups have a significantly higher level of depression, anxiety, as well as increased symptoms of schizophrenia. Sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia. Sugar is also at the root of chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body and also has been implicated in depression.
Sugar is very addictive. We get a great hit of dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter, every time we eat a lot of sugar. and it stimulates the same center in the brain that is affected by cocaine! We get a "sugar rush", our insulin levels sore and then we crash down afterwards. All of this directly affects our mood and mental health.
Over time, our brain changes due to these chemical changes and studies show that when sugar addiction occurs, depression and anxiety increase with the withdraw of sugars.
Change Your Diet and Change Your Brain
The number one thing to start with when making a change in your diet to help your mental health is to stop drinking pop (including sugar free). There is a direct link with people who drink one pop a day and increased levels of depression and anxiety. Read food labels and start eliminating everything with high levels of corn syrup and other refined sugars.
Secondly you should start adding fatty fish to your diet and get good fats. In studies, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild cold water fish (e.g., salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel), seaweed, chicken fed on flaxseed, and walnuts all have been shown to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental disorders. This is likely because of the effect omega-3's have on the production of neurotransmitters , including dopamine and serotonin.
Thirdly, a good helping of leafy greens are packed with nutrients that help support the gut and the brain. Selenium, folic acid, and B vitamins are all essential elements in brain function and comes from spinach, broccoli, onions, romaine, mustard greens, and beets.
Taking care of your gut biome is essential and a healthy diet of pro and pre biotic foods help the healthy connection between the brain and gut. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and cultured yogurts, that are full of prebiotics will help your mental health.
Eat healthy and you will be happier and healthier!
Activity Fact: If you drink one pop a day for a month you ingest 5kg of sugar.
Dr. Mark Perrett
Dr. Perrett is a Canadian-trained chiropractor and has owned a multidisciplinary clinic in Neepawa for the past twenty years. His mission is to keep people active and help them achieve optimal health. He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys soccer and strength-training. He is on the executive team for the Canadian Chiropractic College Board of Governors, Chairman of the licensing committee for the Manitoba Chiropractors Association, a board member and avid fundraiser for World Spine Care, and is involved in the Canadian Chiropractic Guidelines Initiative. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on facebook (@neepawachiropracticcentre), Instagram (neepawachiropractic) and Twitter (@npwchiro).