As we make our physical health a priority at this time, we will strengthen our mental capacity to cope, overcome, and press forward.
I often underestimate the relationship between my physical and mental health. I have been reminded of their dependence on each other as I have read information from doctors and psychologists about how we must maintain our physical health in order to maintain our mental health given the current conditions of the world. Although the task may seem daunting due to local and national restrictions (it has for me, at least), making the effort to fuel our bodies physically is key to hurdling the mental blocks of discouragement, loneliness, and anxiety. Threats to our mental health are more frequent now than ever; this series presents solutions and ideas to combat threats and encourage goodness.
Physicians and psychiatrists are stressing the importance of two fundamental strategies that can increase our physical stamina and decrease our distress: developing a healthy diet and daily physical activity. For some, these ideas may feel like a no-brainer, but as laws and regulations continue to limit our access to resources, we may be wondering how. Read on!
How Can I Start to Take Back Control of my Physical Health?
Developing a Healthy Diet
Prolonged periods of isolation can become the perfect excuse for easy meals. Takeout, microwave dinners, and other junk foods present quick and simple solutions for food come mealtime or snacktime. These processed foods are typically high in carbohydrates and fats, which cause insulin levels to constantly fluctuate. These levels have a direct effect on brain functioning; the foods we choose to eat can directly influence our mental health! We need to be mindful of what we are consuming to ensure that it meets recommendations for our age and sex. If you are unsure what an adequate serving of fruits, vegetables, meat, or dairy looks like for you or your family, choosemyplate.gov provides information including serving sizes, sources of nutrients, and even exercise recommendations for all ages. Giving our brain the nutrients it needs is vital at this time. Cook at least one meal a day at home, fill your plate with a variety of fruits and veggies, or try a new recipe every day! As your diet improves, your mental health follows.
Daily Physical Activity
Although most gyms, recreational centers, fitness clubs, and other workout facilities are closed, creating opportunities for physical exercise is still possible! If you’re like me, your regular routine has been thrown out of whack and even typical movement from work life has been halted. Luckily, most current recommendations allow for people to leave their homes to get out and move, so long as social distancing is still enforced. When available, taking the opportunity to get outside and go for a walk, run, or bike ride can have incredible effects on our mental health. While physical exercise poses many benefits to physique and physical strength, its impact on mental health is equally as notable. In fact, research shows that 30-60 minutes of vigorous physical activity at least 4 times a week has significant antidepressant effects. In some cases, exercise proves to be a more effective treatment for mental illness than therapy or medication.
If the opportunity to go outside isn’t readily available, there are hundreds of free online resources that provide at-home workouts with and without equipment. Youtube, Nike Training Club, and 7 Minute workouts are just a few free resources that can be used on the internet or a smartphone to increase your heart rate from the comfort of your own home! Everyone’s fitness level differs, and some activities may be easier than others. Find what works for you and do what you can; you may begin with a 5 minute workout and work your way up to a 30 minute workout. Be patient with yourself as you seek to exercise your body, and if you find that you are sitting most of the day, make a schedule or set up a timer to get up and walk around every 20-30 minutes. Our small efforts toward physical exercise will make a big difference in our battle for mental strength.
We are living in times of constant change and unique challenge. At times, the “easy way” feels like the only way. Yet, as we consider the threat being placed on our mental health, it is clear that we are in control of the outcome as we proactively choose to do the things that fight our feelings of uncertainty, sadness, and fear. Choosing to eat a healthy diet and engaging in daily physical activity may not appear to be the easy way out, but they are one of the only ways to access joy and peace as we fight for our mental health during these turbulent times. As we make our physical health a priority, we will strengthen our mental capacity to cope, overcome, and press forward.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.