Whether you’re on top of the world, in a deep, depressive funk, or floating comfortably down the middle of the road; achieving and maintaining mental health and wellness gets down to five basics: A healthful diet, adequate sleep, regular exercise, proper medical care and social-emotional connections. Let’s look at each of these basics in greater detail.
A Healthful Diet
Eating an appropriate amount of the right foods improves brain function and thought processes. Fresh fruits and vegetables-especially those that are deep red and orange and dark, leafy greens-provide abundant vitamins, minerals and fiber that go far to fuel the body and mind. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (including salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, halibut, tofu, Brussels sprouts, green beans, scallops, tuna, cod and strawberries) enhance brain function by improving sleep and concentration, decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and depression, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of stroke. In addition, drinking eight or more cups of water a day, and the occasional glass of red wine, keeps cells hydrated and contributes antioxidants, respectively. A well-fed body supports an optimally-functioning brain.
Any insomniac will attest to the fact that a lack of sleep contributes to muddled thinking, inefficient decision-making, irritability and depression. When the brain isn’t able to enter REM cycles and the body is unable to release the day’s accumulated tension, mental health and acuity suffers. Human beings are designed to spend approximately one-third of each twenty-four hours asleep. When you consistently get less than that, reserves are depleted and your body and brain functions suffer. On the flip side, if you sleep far more that the requisite eight hours each night, lethargy can take over and it becomes a challenge to get enough of the next basic requirement for maintaining mental health and wellness: exercise.
You don’t have to train for a marathon or ride your bike 50 miles a week to get enough exercise. In fact, briskly walking for thirty minutes a day, five days a week is a great goal for most people; and is enough movement to keep muscles toned, weight in check, and the circulatory system functioning well, all of which benefit brain function and mental health. As long as you’re moving your body and increasing blood flow, any activity that you enjoy is a good one. For some this will be yoga, for others, kick-boxing or ballet. The point is, MOVE. Move for at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week. It’s that simple, and that important.
Proper Medical Care
Annual check-ups and age-appropriate lab work and tests catch health woes before they become full-blown problems. And since all people have unique genetic profiles and predispositions, some must see a doctor regularly for chronic or serious conditions. If this is the case, do it. A diabetic must monitor various aspects of his health, the person with rheumatoid arthritis must see a specialist regularly, and those with disorders of the brain must do the same. Clinical depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia fall into this category and must be treated for optimal health and recovery. Proper medical care keeps each of these people healthy and well, so they can in turn, enjoy the pleasures of daily, community living. And that brings us to the last of the basics: relationships.
Social- Emotional Connections
Relationships, or social-emotional connections, support wellness at every level. People with deep, meaningful relationships, both intimate and friendly, tend to be more physically active. They get out more, participate in a greater number of physically and mentally engaging activities, talk more, listen more, think more, touch more, care more. Their physical needs are more easily met, their emotional needs are addressed, their minds are stimulated, and their spirits are nurtured. The whole person is better off when connected to others in loving and appreciative relationships. When we connect, our brains do too. When we keep the brain engaged, it’s like getting exercise. The old adage, “use it or lose it” is terribly true when it comes to the brain.