In this “Metabolic Syndrome” and obesity era, changing your diet, exercise routine and or lifestyle will prove to be cost effective for overall health increase. However, is there a direct correlation between mental health and conscious diet and exercise? For those with serious mental health issues, will such changes be a major benefit? We agree that a healthy diet and exercise has obvious physical health benefits. Lets break down ways exercising and eating healthy benefits behavioral health. This article will categorize what chemistry exercising and eating healthy does for your brain's health.
Mental and Behavioral Health Benefits of Exercise
Even if you're feeling down or just okay, exercise can give a needed boost. Exercise stimulates chemicals that improve your mood and the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning. “The importance of exercise is not adequately understood or appreciated by patients and mental health professionals alike. Evidence has suggested that exercise may be an often-neglected intervention in mental health care.”, according to Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry
Depression & Anxiety
“Simply put, most people who are depressed have something wrong with their brain chemistry," says William Walsh, Ph.D., president of the Walsh Research Institute, a nonprofit mental health research institution in Illinois. “Life experiences can make things worse,” he adds, “but usually the dominant problem is chemistry." Aerobic exercises, including basketball, jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. But were does the chemistry comes in?
When you exercise, something called runners high happens. ”This describes the release of endorphins that your brain experiences when you physically exert yourself. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger. They help relieve pain and stress.”, according to Timothy J. Legg, PMHNP-BC, GNP-BC, CARN-AP, MCHES and Ryan Collins.
When exercising, there are more chemical stimulation happening than the releasing of endorphins. For example: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are others. These chemicals in the brain have important mood regulatory influence. Dopamine plays a big role in motivation and reward. For example, when you put in hard work to accomplish something, the satisfaction feeling you receive is partially due to a chemical rush of dopamine. “Nearly all pleasurable experiences — from eating a good meal to having sex — involve the release of dopamine... That release is part of what makes some things addicting, such as gambling, drugs or shopping.”, according to Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on December 5, 2018— Written by Carly Vandergriendt. The same publication goes on to claim a dopamine dysfunction has a correlation with more serious mental health concerns.
Serotonin is involved in how you process your emotions, which can affect your overall mood. Serotonin was previously thought to have an unmistakable and direct correlation to depression. Recent studies are inconclusive.
There are secondary symptoms with having anxiety and depression, among other mental health issues. Low self-esteem and social withdrawal are examples of secondary issues. Exercise can alleviate these secondary issues, as well.
More Serious Behavioral and Mental Health concerns
“Exercise is especially important in patients with schizophrenia since these patients are already vulnerable to obesity and also because of the additional risk of weight gain associated with antipsychotic treatment, especially with the atypical antipsychotics. Patients suffering from schizophrenia who participated in a 3-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control and reported increased fitness levels, exercise tolerance, reduced blood pressure levels, increased perceived energy levels, and increased upper body and hand grip strength levels.”, according to Timothy J. Legg, PMHNP-BC, GNP-BC, CARN-AP, MCHES and Ryan Collins.
“Besides Parkinson’s disease, experts also believe that a dysfunction of the dopamine system plays a role in: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).“, as stated by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on December 5, 2018 — Written by Carly Vandergriendt. This same article goes on to link a dysfunction of Serotonin to more serious mental health concerns.
“In a 2014 review, serotonin was also linked to several other conditions, including: anxiety disorders, autism, bipolar disorder. More specifically, the researchers found low serotonin binding among people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder. This results in less available serotonin in the brain. In addition, they found that people with autism are more likely to have lower levels of serotonin in certain areas of the brain. Bipolar disorder was also associated with altered serotonin activity, which may influence the severity of someone’s symptoms.”
No exact way to gauge serotonin and dopamine in your body has been developed. Both have an effect on same parts of your health, they still are distinct in ways, yet to be fully understood.
Mental and Behavioral Health Benefits of Eating Healthy
I have heard foods you eat has an affect on you mentally. But I never knew why… until now. I will give an analogy to explain the overarching importance - If you own an expensive car that works best with premium fuel, you should put premium fuel in it to get the best performance. The thing about this “car”, it runs 24/7. So, Basically, healthy fruits, vegetables, proteins and other quality nutrients in moderation affects your behavior and mental health.
Depression & Anxiety
Opposite to the premium fuel analogy, made in the previous paragraph, poor fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) for your brain can cause harm. This is due to the brain's inability to rid those harmful substances. According to Eva Schilb MD , "Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression"
“Diet is linked to the hippocampus, a key area of the brain involved in learning, memory, and mental health. People with healthy diets have more hippocampal volume than those with unhealthy diets”, according to Dr. Felice Jacka and the staff at the Food and Mood Centre. Eating healthy foods (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, olive oil) and staying away from processed foods can be a great means to fight depression. “One study found that 1/3 of participants with depression experienced full relief of their symptoms after improving their diet. The more people improved their diets, the more their depression improved”, according to Dr. Felice Jacka and the staff at the Food and Mood Centre. Furthermore, a twelve week study treating moderate to severe depression with food intervention, called the SMILES test,
Try a "clean diet", to see the difference food makes in your mood. Pay attention to how the food you eat makes you feel. Not just in the moment, but the next day(s), as well. If you are up to the challenge, stop consuming processed sugars (some cut out grains and add fermented foods, like pickles) for 2 - 3 weeks. According to Eva Schilb MD , many completing this diet were amazed at how they felt emotionally and how much worse they felt, when they reintroduced foods known to cause inflammation. To further understand what foods better your mood and how, click here for the Fitness 4MindBody findings.
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