The month of May is devoted to mental health awareness. “Mental health is integral to our overall health,” reports the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The commission goes on to summarize that mental health is really a state of wellbeing in which we’re each able to embody our fullest potential and better handle whatever life throws our way.
“Good mental health buffers us from the stresses and hardships that are part of life for everyone,” notes the commission.
As we develop an increasingly holistic approach to health, more and more research is pointing to distinct ways that our nutrition, diet and exercise can influence our mental health and sense of happiness and wellbeing.
These four tips can open our eyes to the many ways that our mental health is connected to other areas of our lives.
Please note that if you have questions about depression, anxiety and similar concerns, always talk to your doctor first to ensure you’re receiving the best care for your specific situation.
1. Omega-3 fatty acids may boost brain functioning
Approximately 40 percent of Canadians don’t get enough omega-3s, warns Statistics Canada. This essential fatty acid has been linked to improved mental cognition, reduced depression, enhanced mood and much more.
We’re often told to eat oily fish or take a fish oil supplement to manage an omega-3 deficiency, but the type of fish also makes a big difference. Some of the best sources for omega-3 fats, as ranked by the Linus Pauling Institute, are Pacific herring, Chinook salmon, Pacific salmon and Atlantic salmon. Vegetarian-friendly options include flaxseed oil, chia seeds, English walnuts and ground flaxseeds.
Many of us have an imbalance not just because we don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids, but also because our diets are too rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids that you may wish to reduce in your diet include wheat, whole-grain bread and many kinds of nuts.
2. A sunny outlook on life
A third of Canadians don’t have enough vitamin D. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D may be linked to the levels of monoamines – brain chemicals that affect our mood – in our brains. Many studies have noted that people suffering from depression have low levels of vitamin D.
Exposure to sunlight is one of the most common ways our bodies get vitamin D. Interestingly, exposure to the sun also triggers the release of feel-good brain chemicals, further boosting our levels of happiness.
If you live in an area of Canada that doesn’t get a lot of sunshine all year, dietary sources of vitamin D include canned pink salmon, fortified milk and egg yolks.
3. Sweat out worries
Here’s another reason to do a happy dance, literally. Dozens of studies, ranging from small studies focused on specific subsets of people to broad population-based studies, have investigated the ways that physical movement affects our mood. And the results are impressive, with exercise being linked to reduce depression, lower anxiety and stress, improved sleep and a better sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Not only does research suggest that exercise may help prevent mood disorders, but working out may even prevent relapse. “As evidence piles up,” reports the American Psychological Association, “the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.”
To boost our mood, we only need 30 minutes of brisk walking or similar exercise three times a week. If you’re busy, don’t worry. Research in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry hypothesizes that those 30 minutes can be broken up into three 10-minute sessions – perfect for squeezing into a lunch break or between household chores.
After exercising, speed up your muscle’s recovery and minimize any potential muscle soreness with a protein shake that’s rich in branched chain amino acids, such as Leanfit’s 100% Whey.
4. Try nature’s chill pill
Magnesium may be Mother Nature’s original chill pill. Unfortunately, almost 40 percent of Canadians don’t get enough of this essential mineral, warns Health Canada. Researchers think that magnesium deficiencies, especially when combined with stress, may be linked to a wide range of mental and mood concerns, including sleeplessness, irritability and anxiety.
Magnesium is a part of chlorophyll, the biomolecule that gives plants their green color. Chlorophyll-rich foods, such as spinach, Swiss chard and sea vegetables can all boost our magnesium levels.