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Diet, Exercise and Our Mental Health

What exactly is depression? Everybody has had moments when they feel sad or just down in the dumps.

It’s when these feelings continue to linger, that it could point to a bigger problem. Depression can range

from mild to persistent. Some signs and symptoms of depression are:

 Feelings of sadness

 Loss of interest normal activities such as hobbies, sports, or sex

 Reduced appetite and weight loss; or increased cravings and weight gain

 Feelings of worthlessness

 Trouble thinking or concentrating

 Anxiety or restlessness

 Unexplained physical problems, such as headaches

 Sleep disturbances

 Unexplained fatigue

Symptoms are usually severe enough to cause problems in relationships or in day-to-day life. Depression

can become so severe that it disrupts a person’s quality of life. Studies show that some of these feelings

of hopelessness and mental illness can be associated with suicide. So, for someone suffering with these

symptoms, treatment is crucial.

Often treatment includes a combination of mental health therapy and medications. But did you know

that diet and exercise can be quite effective in improving the symptoms of depression as well?

Research done on neurotransmitters found a strong link between diet and depression.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that work in the brain to keep us mentally healthy. Some

neurotransmitters that are important for fighting depression are serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline

and gamma-aminobutyric (GABA). These neurotransmitters are made inside our bodies from the food

we eat.

In order to produce these neurotransmitters, your brain needs proper nutrition consisting of high-

quality foods to function at its best. What you eat does affect your mood, so you should eat foods that

enhance your health. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, fish, seafood, modest

amounts of lean meat and dairy lower the risk of depression by 25% to 35%!

In addition to adding more of the right foods to your diet, you also need to stay away from processed

food, saturated and trans fats, and simple carbohydrates (refined sugars). Sugary foods are especially

bad for depression. All carbohydrates cause an increase in serotonin levels, which is a good thing for

depression, but simple carbs lack any substance, they burn up quickly, so there is no benefit to that

serotonin increase. Complex carbs such as whole grains, provide the nutrients the brain needs, stay in

your body longer, so your brain does benefit from the increase in serotonin. Low-carb diets are not the

way to go if you have symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Sugar substitutes should be avoided as well. “Light” foods are especially bad. Aspartame is an artificial

sweetener that is implicated in depression. It lowers serotonin levels even further in people with


Besides diet, exercise can play a huge role in the battle with depression.

When you are suffering from anxiety or depression, exercise may feel impossible. But once you get

started, it can make a big difference.

Regular exercise helps depression by taking your mind off your worries and releasing these feel-good

chemicals in your body called endorphins. You gain confidence by meeting goals and challenges. Getting

in shape can make you feel better about how you look. Exercise is a good way to get more social

interaction and cope with your problems in a positive way.

It really doesn’t take all that much to make a big difference! You don’t need a formal exercise program

and can notice improvements in your mood by simply going for regular walks. In fact, any physical

activity that works your muscles is a win for your mental health. This can even be household chores or


It only takes 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week to see improvement. Find something that you like to do,

so you will stick with it. Think about what you realistically can accomplish and then gradually increase as

you get stronger. Don’t think of this as a chore, but rather schedule it the same way you would a therapy

session or your medication. Discover what your barriers are and work at removing those barriers one by

one. Maybe you work out better with somebody. So, try to find a work-out buddy. Or if you are self-

conscience about the way you look, start out working out at home.

And as always, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Your provider’s

guidance and support will go a long way in your treatment goals.

If you are eating right and exercising, and your depression symptoms still interfere with your daily life,

see your doctor. These are great tools to ease your pain, but there is no substitute for therapy and


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