Thursday 29 September 2016

Movement can be key to improving mental health

Taking some gentle exercise and ensuring that you are eating the right foods can give an enormous boost to your well-being, writes Karl Henry

Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30

Karl Henry
Karl Henry

Mental health has never been more open, or more written and talked about than it is now. It is fantastic to see Ireland so aware of depression and all the other aspects of mental health — and it is so helpful to those who suffer.

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One of the key areas that we know can make such a big difference to everyone, not only those with mental health problems, is movement and food. We know that the food you eat and drink plays an incredibly important role in your mood — there is a direct link. But, also, the amount and the effort level of your movement plays a key role, too.

Firstly, I am not a doctor. I am in no way claiming to replace any medication with food and movement, but I do think that medication can sometimes be the first thing to be used to fix a problem that can also be effected with exercise and food first.

Let’s look at how movement can effect your health. When you move, you force your body to circulate, to change, to function. You force your body to release hormones into the blood stream, hormones that will make you feel good. These hormones are fantastic for your mood, your mind and your body, but — unfortunately — you won’t get them from sitting all day. It can be as easy as walking to the shops, walking up and down the stairs, stretching, cycling a bike or, to be honest, absolutely anything that gets your heart pumping and your energy flowing.

It is one of many reasons that team sports can be so beneficial. The group environment provides a structure, a network, a reason to get you to the session. Even if you don’t want to go to the session, your friends will text or call you and get you there, you won’t want to let them down. The media is full of stories from athletes lately telling us just how supportive their teams have been when coping with their mental health issues.

If you are reading this column and you’re having a bad day, then you need to move. Put down the paper, move for a few minutes or longer and watch what happens to your mood, your outlook, your opinions, your stress levels and whatever else is causing your bad day. They will change.

Ideally, the crucial point to note is that to get the very best results from your exercise or movement, you need to push the body a little. Getting slightly out of breath is the point at which some of the very best benefits occur, this is where you will gain the most, so don’t be afraid to push the body a little bit, and as you get fitter, keep pushing the body a little bit more to get the best benefits.

Adding some structure to your exercise can help too, something like a couch to 5k programme can work wonders, simply download the eight-week plan and off you go, culminating in an event such as a Parkrun. Resistance exercise, when done as part of a balanced exercise routine, can be one of the most beneficial forms of exercise. Using your body as a weight, or lifting any kind of weight is resistance exercise, and it’s incredible for your mental and physical health. Just be careful to avoid any extreme or cult-like exercise regimes as these will become totally addictive, which is never good. To summarise, the key message for mental health and exercise is just to move more. Movement is crucial to improving your mental health, move more to feel better.

In terms of food, it’s equally as crucial. The food you eat is directly related to how you feel as well as your weight. Highly processed foods with E-numbers, preservatives, additives and lots of sugar will make you feel great for a short period of time, followed by a sugar crash that will have you feeling low a few hours later, leading you to crave even more. On a mood level, you are happy then sad, productive then unproductive, high then low. Good then bad. Don’t believe me? Using your diary, track your mood and food during the day. You will feel good for the hour after you eat and then an hour or two after that you will notice a drop in your mood. The key for food is to eat :

* Real foods

* Foods you have to prepare yourself

* Foods with short shelf lives

* Foods with few ingredients on the label

* Avoid diet and fat-free foods

* Increase your water intake

These are simple guidelines that will make a huge difference to your mood and your energy levels, especially if you combine this with moving more too.

Mental health has never been more topical. There is more information out there than ever before. Talk to someone, eat better, move more and lets see.

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