It was once believed that we were victims to our genetics. That “my mom had it, and my grandma before her, so it is the way it is.” It is true to an extent that I may have a higher susceptibility to one disease, while you to a completely different one. However, we are not victims to our genetics. Let me repeat that again: We are not victims to our genetics. Through the efforts of amazing research scientists in the fields of “nutrigenomics,” we now know that our lifestyle can turn ON or turn OFF certain genes. This can be applied to many diseases, even diseased of the mind.
While one person may benefit from more fiber, and the other from more exercise, the 5 things you can do today to improve your mental health are low risk and high reward. Meaning, try it out because all of these things will benefit you in one way or another!
1. Eat more high fiber foods
Did you know that your GUT is considered your “second brain?” That’s right, the trillions of bacteria living in your intestines communicate with your brain! WOAH. Kind of creepy when you first think about it. But, it’s really fascinating when you realize you can either feed the good guys or the bad guys. The bad guys thrive on processed foods, refined sugars, and alcohol. While the good guys thrive on– you guessed it– high fiber foods.
How to increase fiber: whole grains (wild rice, rolled & steel cut oats), nuts & seeds, beans & lentils, vegetables, fruits.
Exercise comes in all shapes and forms. If you don’t like pumping iron at the gym in a skimpy tank top– don’t do it!! And if you love that– do it! When it comes to exercise, the most important thing to remember is that you must enjoy it! If you don’t enjoy the exercise, it can be a “stressful event,” and actually cause more anxiety.
Ideas for exercise: go for a walk, take the stairs, do some yard work, shovel the driveway, play tennis, go for a swim.
I am forever thankful for the age of the internet. And the age of global travel. Without it, we may not have the widespread practice of Eastern meditation. Of mindfulness. Of being present in the moment and experiencing your life. Meditation is so powerful when it comes to mental health. It makes us stop and see what is around us, rather than obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.
How to do it: sit and just be, let thoughts pass as if they were ducks floating by, notice how your body feels, notice the sounds and sights all around you. If you need meditation guidance, there are some great apps out there to get you started like the calm app.
4. Eat fresh produce
I mentioned fresh produce above thanks to the fiber in it, which feeds your good gut bugs. But fruits and vegetables can provide you SO much more ! They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Did you know that chronic anxiety and depression is associated with chronic inflammation? The antioxidants can help to reduce inflammation!
What to eat: variety is important here. Make sure you eat a variety of colors every day.
a. Red/orange/yellow: red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, oranges, lemons, bananas
b. green: lettuce, cucumbers, green beans, swiss chard, kale, bok choy
c. blue/purple: eggplant, blueberries, blackberries, purple potatoes, purple kale, plums
d. white: cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, turnips, potatoes, onions
Sleep more?! YES! Sleeping is a time when your body can heal itself. Chronic lack of sleep can present itself in so many ways, from fatigue and weight gain, to higher anxiety and depression. But for a lot of people, sleep is a struggle, and insomnia hits every night. Read the list below and try some tactics to help your body naturally produce melatonin for better quality sleep.
How to sleep better: get natural sunlight exposure during the day, reduce blue light after the sun goes down (phone/computer/TV screens), exercise during the day, drink calming teas, limit caffeine after 12pm.
You are in control of how you feel. Always remember that you have the power to change your life. And it can start in something as small as improving the quality of the foods you eat.
This article was written by Rosemary Squires, MA, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian from The Hint of Rosemary.