The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that “Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.” Numerous studies support this statement. For example, in 2012 The BMJ published a report that found individuals with poor mental health are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and cancer.
But how do we know what good mental health really is? How do we define it?
WHO defines good mental health as a “state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” I would also add good mental health allows us to make real connections with other people.
If you feel your own mental health could stand to be uplifted, here are some ways you can improve it starting today:
Eat a Healthy Diet
I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of good nutrition as a weapon against obesity and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. But eating well can also benefit our mental health.
Our brains require a balanced mix of nutrients to function optimally. Diets like the Mediterranean diet, which incorporate high consumption of plant-based foods, nuts, seeds, and legumes with a little fish (or other lean meat) can give your brain the proper nutrients it needs.
Get Regular Exercise
Being physically active is important for all aspects of our health, including mental health. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults should try and get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
But really, any exercise is better than no exercise. To up your mental wellbeing benefits – be sure do partake in physical activity that you actually like. If going to the gym to spend countless hours on the treadmill is not going to lift your spirit, then don’t do it. If you prefer to ride your bike around the neighborhood, or take dance lessons, do those activities instead.
Outdoor activities that include nature, such as walking through a park or on a walking trail, have particular benefits for our mental wellbeing.
Manage Your Stress
At some point or other in our lives, all of us will experience stress. This might be a result of our jobs, relationship, or money problems. And when stress rears its ugly head, it can take a toll on our physical and mental health.
But there are natural ways to manage stress that actually work!
There have been many studies, like the one published in PLOS ONE in 2008, that found yoga and meditation actually change the gene response to stress. This is an incredible scientific finding which proves yoga and meditation aren’t just woo-woo methods of helping the mind stay healthy, but are actually biologically responsible for reducing our stress levels.
Get More Sleep
Sleep problems can make our lives a living nightmare. Not only does lack of sleep cause our immune system to take a hit, but our minds take a hit as well. A 2010 study by researchers from the George Institute on Global Health in Australia found that people who get less than 5 hours sleep a night may be at higher risk of mental illness.
There are things you can do to help your body get a good night’s sleep. The Mayo Clinic suggest individuals go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, yes, even on weekends and holidays. Getting into a bodily routine can help boost your sleep-wake cycle and promote a better night’s sleep.
Bedtime rituals can also promote restful sleep. Consider reading a book and/or taking a nice warm bath beforehand. These will help your mind and body wind down after a full day.
Caution: NEVER use electronic items such as TVs, computers or eReaders because the screens on these devices emit a type of light that actually stimulates your brain, making it hard to relax and fall asleep.
Some other things to avoid: high intakes of caffeine, alcohol, or sugary foods, which can disrupt sleep patterns. Also, most people sleep best in an environment that’s cool, dark, and quiet.
[Editor’s note: No matter what they try, some people have a difficult time relaxing enough to get to sleep. If you’re nodding your head right now, then I invite you to learn about Sonic Wave Relaxation Therapy. It only takes 15 minutes a day. The best part is, not only will it help you sleep, it’ll also help you lose weight, have more energy, and lower your blood pressure permanently. Find out how.]
Be More Social
As we age, many of us find we don’t have as many friends as we used to. We move away from friends we had at school and begin families of our own, which takes up all of our time. We may make friends with our kids’ friends’ parents, but that’s often out of convenience and not necessarily because of a real connection.
But humans are social creatures. We are hardwired to live and work in groups and need to be around one another. Isolation can quickly and easily lead to depression.
While it’s not as easy making new friends at an older age, there are still ways to do it. A great way is to volunteer at one or more local charities. This will ensure you meet like-minded individuals who care about the same things you do.
We often talk about the necessity for maintaining our physical health, but our mental health is equally important to our quality of life. If, after following these 5 simple strategies, you don’t feel an improvement, consider speaking with a mental health professional, who may suggest one-on-one counseling.