I’ve long been a great believer and advocate for a healthy body leading to a healthy mind and watching the recent Stutz documentary by Jonah Hill on Netflix, re-enforced this further.
The film chronicles the life and career of psychiatrist Dr Phil Stutz, Hill’s therapist and showcases the tools he gives to his clients to help them manage anxiety, depression, and day to day life.
When Stutz discusses the importance of health behaviours like exercise, diet, and sleep, he estimates 85% of the initial mental health gains clients make from commencing therapy can come from focusing on these “lifestyle” factors.
While the 85% figure is debatable, there is now good evidence conditions such as depression can be treated through changes to lifestyle. A recent meta-analysis (which brings together results from different research studies) shows exercise may be as powerful as anti-depressant medication for depression.
When we prioritize our physical health through regular exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep, we provide our bodies with the necessary resources to function optimally. Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins, the natural mood boosters which help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain which enhances cognitive function and memory.
Eating a balanced diet with nutritious foods provides our bodies with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients support our brain health and can improve our ability to concentrate, think clearly and maintain a positive mood.
Sleep is crucial for physical and mental well-being. During sleep our bodies repair and rejuvenate themselves, the same applies to our brains. Sufficient sleep improves cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation.
When we take care of our physical health, we are more likely to feel good about our bodies and physical abilities, boosting our self-esteem and self-confidence. Regular physical activity helps manage stress and improve our overall quality of life.
If we don’t take care of our physical health, it can have a negative effect on our mental well-being. Lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and insufficient sleep can lead to tiredness, low energy, lack of tolerance, low self-esteem, and increased stress levels – which can contribute to anxiety and depression.
As for me, I have always found exercise energising whilst helping to calm and still my mind. Running has helped release anger and stress and gives me alone time when I need it. Tennis has provided me with a focus and concentration on the ball, which results in a type of mindfulness. Tennis and dog walking delivers the socialisation and connection I often crave. Pilates affords me the ultimate in mind and body connection and acts as a whole-body release after the intense cardio of running and tennis.
I was brought up in a household where food was natural, unprocessed, and homemade, I didn’t have a frozen pizza until I was 18 and a ready meal until I was in my 30s – I don’t feel I have missed out! Other than a mild obsession with Kettle chips and the odd 4pm sugar craving…my diet is pretty clean.
This is a way of being I have introduced to my children. Whilst we have a tiny garden, we get involved with growing our own veggies and buy fruit, veg and meat from our local farm. The children love to get involved with cooking and baking and I have noticed a real shift in their palate expanding when they’ve been involved in what we are eating.
Whilst sleep is still my biggest struggle, thanks to having small children, I recognise when my children are exercised (dog walks, tennis, swimming) they sleep better and so do I! There are times when my 9-year-old daughter struggles with anger and I notice these episodes do not occur when she’s been involved with exercise or had a good night’s sleep.
Alongside asking counselling clients why they are here to see me today, I always ask about their sleep, eating and exercise habits to see if these are impacting their mental well-being. Once you start opening this conversation the client very quickly sees how their unhealthy body may be impacting their struggling mind.