As a family physician, I don’t just advocate for patients to take care of their physical health; I also urge the importance of taking care of their mental health, too. Even if you don’t realize it, so much of what we do and experience can impact us mentally, which is why, when talking about health, it’s important to not only focus on things like heart and/or bone health, but on whole health — that way you are benefiting both the mind and the body — and regardless of age or gender. Whether it’s a young child that is just developing, a teenager going through the many ups and downs that so often come along with adolescence, or a senior enjoying retirement, your mental health matters.
There are many lifestyle factors that play a part in the decline or improvement of mental health. Living a healthy lifestyle can not only help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions, but you’re also preventing things like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other chronic health conditions at the same time. To ensure you’re taking care of your mental and overall health, I recommend the following four steps:
• Eat healthy
• Get regular exercise
• Sleep well
• Manage stress
When it comes to eating healthy, it’s all about making sure you’re getting the right amount of vitamins and other essential nutrients. Studies have shown foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon or sardines), chicken and walnuts are some of the best foods for improving mental health, and have even been shown to reduce symptoms of specific types of mental illness, such as depression, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), schizophrenia, as well as other mental health disorders. Drinking water can also be beneficial to your mental health and provide you with more energy throughout the day. For more on how certain foods impact your health, check out the article titled ‘Five Foods for Good Health’.
Along with helping people control, maintain and lose weight, exercise is also one of the most beneficial ways to improve your mental health. Regular physical activity can have a profound impact on depression, can relieve stress, boost the mood, and give you a much better overall quality of life. There are many different ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, too. For example, you could join a gym or partake in a drop-in fitness class at your local community centre. Now that the weather’s getting nicer, it’s also a good idea to try and move your exercise routine outdoors — you could go for a walk around your neighbourhood, a hike at the Grouse Grind, or even biking. In Vancouver, the opportunities and place you can go to get exercise are endless.
Sleep is something that some may not realize plays at important role in mental health. While some people say that they can run on very little sleep, I recommend patients get at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night — minimum. Getting enough sleep allows the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. If you don’t get enough sleep you’re not only putting yourself at risk of mental decline (and can develop anxiety and/or depression), but you can also wind up with a weakened immune system — meaning you’ll be much more likely to fall ill with viral or bacterial infections. If sleep is something you constantly struggle with, you may suffer from a condition known as insomnia and may require medicinal intervention to help you get a better night’s rest.
Lastly, managing stress. Day to day life can be difficult for even the best of us, and we’ve all experienced or will have had experienced a stressful situation or two (or many more) at some point or another in our lives. How we handle that stress, however, is key. If you’re someone who experiences a lot of stress in life, you need to set aside a bit of time each day to find ways to manage it. It can be as simple as writing down how you’re feeling in a journal, taking 30 minutes out of your day to meditate, or finding a support group so you can express how you’re feeling with others. Stress can have a huge impact on the body, and the result can be either negative or positive depending on your coping mechanisms. For more on how the body reacts to stress, click here.
Remember, if you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted individual such as a friend, family member, or doctor. You can also find great mental health resources by visiting the Canadian Mental Health Association website at CMHA.ca. If you are in immediate need of assistance or are going through a crisis, please visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca, or visit your nearest emergency room.