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
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
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