We live in a stressful society. Many Americans today work long hours, interact with difficult people and struggle to find time to relax. On top of this, many of us will be paying back student loans for the foreseeable future. Constant stress and anxiety isn’t healthy for your physical and psychological health. Routinely dealing with stress can increase your risk of getting sick, experiencing sleep problems and having trouble maintaining relationships. Research has shown that staying physically active and eating nutritious meals can assist people with reducing mental health problems.
It is important to find a healthy outlet for reducing stress, running is proven to be one of the most effective.
The Benefits of Exercising
Exercising improves the body’s overall ability to combat stress. For example, running or cycling increases your heart rate and reverses stress-induced brain damage. When you run, your brain produces neurohormones like norepinephrine, which improves your cognition and mood.
Running can also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercising increases your endorphin levels, which boosts feelings of happiness. In fact, some physicians recommend that people experiencing a mental health disorder to take up physical fitness activities like running.
A study by Princeton University examined the role of exercise in reducing anxiety. In the study, researchers monitored sedentary mice and mice that ran in their cages. According to the results, mice who ran exhibited less nervousness than did the those who sat quietly in their cages. Upon examining the brains of each set of mice, researchers found that the running mice developed new, excitable neurons that were not seen in sedentary mice. The results suggested that running can create new neurons in humans that can help their bodies better respond to stress.
By running, you can also improve your sleep. Research indicates that exercising can calm the mind by increasing your body temperature, and it can also regulate your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm controls when you feel tired and alert. Experiencing uninterrupted sleep can reduce the chance that you become irritable, anxious or depressed.
Physical activity can also help you improve your physical health. Running builds muscle tone and helps you maintain a healthy body weight, which can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem.
Eating Healthy Helps, Too
Exercising is one component of a healthy mind. But you must eat well, too. A balanced diet is critical in preventing mental health problems, like anxiety or depression, because nutrient-heavy food boosts your mood and energy.
According to a report by Harvard University, eating high-quality foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourishes the brain and helps prevent stress. However, eating foods that are high in sugars or fats can lead to or worsen mood problems.
Many healthy foods are associated with a reduced risk of depression, including:
- Fresh basil
- Nuts and seeds
Vitamin D can assist the body in absorbing calcium, which can improve your teeth, bones and immune system. A lack of Vitamin D has been associated with the development of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons.
Omega-3 fatty acids can stabilize your mood and has been shown to help treat depression. Research has also indicated that omega-3 fatty acids can be effective in helping young people deal with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Breakfast is often referred to as “the most important meal of the day” for a reason. The first meal of the day fuels your body and brain after your body has gone hours without food. When contemplating breakfast foods, always try to incorporate healthy foods like eggs, fruit and nuts into your diet. If you’re in a hurry, try eating a smaller food item, like yogurt, a whole grain granola bar or some fruit. Never skip breakfast.
For lunch and dinner, incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats and fish. Research indicates that individuals who integrate these foods into their meals are 30 percent less likely to experience depression. Avoid fried, sugary and high-fat dairy foods because these foods can increase the risk of depression and diabetes.
To avoid dehydration, you should also try to drink eight glasses of water each day. If you have an anxiety disorder, avoid highly caffeinated beverages like coffee. However, you could still try tea because it has only low-levels of caffeine.
Balancing a healthy diet with physical activity increases your overall well-being. When you run, you burn a lot of calories which potentially leaves your body with a caloric deficit. After exercising, be sure to replenish your body with foods and drinks that are rich in vitamins and nutrients to sustain your ongoing health.
If you’re grappling with a mental health or substance use disorder, seek treatment. Failing to get professional help for a mental illness or addiction can exacerbate your health problems. The Recovery Village offers evidence-based treatment that caters to an individual’s specific needs. Contact The Recovery Village to learn how treatment can improve your life.
About The Author
Matt Gonzales is an award-winning content writer. A former journalist, he is dedicated to spreading awareness about substance misuse and sharing inspiring stories of people in recovery. He lives in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and son. The Recovery Village is a network of rehabilitation facilities that offers comprehensive treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders.