Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach Charlotte Lau explores the relationship between physical and mental health

Quite often when we talk about ‘improving our health’, we make specific choices about the food that we eat or the amount of exercise that we do, but how often do we make a conscious effort to improve our mood, our relationships or work on how we feel? Living with a long-term physical health condition, for example, can have a serious impact on mental wellbeing. In fact, nearly one in three people with a chronic physical health condition also have a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety. Similarly, those who are experiencing mental health issues are also more likely to have poor physical health where looking after their health is an additional challenge, as well as the direct effects of chronic stress on the body. That said, just as our mental and physical health can have a negative impact on one another, they can also positively influence each other, so what you do for your body to stay physically healthy, can also support your mental wellbeing. 

Learn to… see your daily habits as interconnected

We often talk about our physical and mental health as two separate entities, but they are very closely linked and affect each other in a number of different ways. Take for example sleep; depression can lead to disrupted sleep, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking early. At the same time, lack of sleep can also increase the risk of depression and increase our appetite or desire for caffeine and sugary foods. So make your sleep routine a priority. 

Our social circle may subconsciously impact our daily choices. A close social network not only means you have friends and family members who are there to offer support and advice when needed, but they are also there to enjoy walks with and to motivate you to stick to an exercise class or support you with your food choices.

Give it a go… nourish your body & mood with food

The gut-brain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain. Your brain impacts your gut health and your gut health can influence your mood. While food has measurable effects in the brain, its impact is gradual, building up over time, which is why it’s important to build up regular long term habits. Diets that are rich in fibre – think colourful fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes and herbs and spices – are associated with reducing systemic inflammation and reduce the risk and severity of depression and dementia. Things like olive oil, fish and seafood, with moderate amounts of dairy and lower intakes of red and processed meat are also extremely beneficial. Try to limit foods that contain free sugars, sugar sweetened beverages and heavily processed foods as high sugar diets are linked to cognitive impairment.

Step away from… a sedentary lifestyle 

We have all heard about how regular physical activity benefits our long-term physical health and longevity but it also helps to protect our brain. Ideally, for both our physical and mental health we want to be moving everyday but it’s reassuring to know that even a little activity can make a difference! We are advised to do 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, but this includes all movement such as walking to the shops, doing housework or mowing your lawn. Research shows that it can reduce the risk of developing anxiety and depression, lower depression severity, reduce the risk of dementia, improve memory and elevate mood. Our brain is an organ, which, like all the other organs in our body, benefits from exercise.

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