Hey Angels and Alphas,
When most people exercise or try to lose weight, eat right, and place an emphasis on sleep, they’re doing it to improve their overall physical health. But all three factors are known to massively impact your mental health, as well.
A recent study by the University of Otago in New Zealand, published in Frontiers of Psychology, explored this interesting link. They noted that sleep, exercise, and diet are all associated with proper mental hygiene, and the researchers wanted to determine which of these three elements will hold the strongest correlation to overall mental health.
This study surveyed more than 1,000 young adults all over New Zealand and the US, and they found their answer: sleep, physical activity, and diet, in that order, were the main predictors of proper mental health and overall well-being.
Let’s talk about each of these in a little bit more detail.
#1 HIGH-QUALITY SLEEP
The findings of the researchers heavily stressed the importance of sleep quality over sleep quantity. Too little sleep (which was basically measured at less than eight hours,) and too much sleep (about 12 hours) were associated with lower well-being, higher depressive symptoms, and sleep quality outranked sleep quantity in predicting mental health.
This suggests that sleep quality should usually be promoted alongside sleep quantity as one of the best tools for improving mental health and well-being in the lives of young adults.
Sleep is also known to impact your mood heavily, as well as your stress and anxiety levels. And let’s not forget how vital sleep is to the immune system, concentration levels, heart health, and the ability to manage your weight. The CDC recommends 7-9 hours of sleep, but as the study noted, you should be aiming for quality, not quantity. Keeping regular bedtimes, avoiding screens before bed, skipping heavy foods and alcohol before bed, all of these will aid in your effort to improve your overall sleep quality.
Experts have suggested that eating balanced meals (and snacks) throughout your day will leave you feeling less tempted to indulge at night. Same goes for avoiding caffeine, sugary drinks, or anything that could potentially give you heartburn or indigestion.
#2 REGULAR EXERCISE
In this study, exercise was the second most important factor when it came to determining mental health and wellness. That’s hardly a surprise, as for years, exercise has been conclusively linked to better mood and happiness. Exercise will basically kick off a cascade of feel-good chemicals inside your body. Have you ever heard of the runner’s high? Even though temporary at first, regular activity will result in long-term benefits to your health.
A 2019 study actually found that replacing sedentary time with about 10-15 minutes of rigorous exercise such as circuit training or HIIT (or with about an hour of moderate-intensity activity) reduced overall risk of depression by a whopping 25 percent. That’s huge!
Additional research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies actually showed that people who exercise for 150-300 minutes every week were over 50 percent happier than people who weren’t as active.
#3 EATING RAW FRUITS AND VEGGIES
According to the study done by the University of Otage, mental health scores were usually the highest among people who ate about 4.5-5 servings of raw fruits and veggies every day. (If you needed another reason to stock up on uncooked produce, this is it.)
It’s hard to go wrong here, really, since many different options for raw fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, fiber, and vital phytonutrients. Study researchers noted that certain foods and veggies have higher levels of vitamin C and E, all of which have anti-inflammatory properties and can boost your mood and reduce chances and risk of depression.
Researchers recommended plenty of cucumbers, carrots, green beans, broccoli, spinach, and other leafy greens (dark ones, to be exact.) In terms of fruit, you have to include a lot of apples, assorted citrus fruits, berries, kiwi, and bananas. These raw fruits and veggies all have the potential to impact your mental health in the best of ways.