There is a well of information out there on being healthy in body and mind. A healthy mind is indeed closely linked with a healthy body and brain. The biological impact of the brain and body on our mood is substantial and this is good news because it is something we can look at and change. It was estimated that in 2016 approximately 45% of Australians would experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, with the majority of these presentations being Anxiety and Depression (www.beyondblue.org.au). We must therefore continue to address lifestyle factors that are prevalent amongst the Australian population that may be contributing to this frightening statistic while also highlighting changes to lifestyle and environment that will alleviate psychological symptoms and create positive outcomes for the individual.
There are many changes in the brain that occur at the same time as depression and anxiety however causal relationships are difficult to prove. Certainly factors such as how much serotonin you produce, hormone levels, inflammation in the body and brain and how healthy your synapses are, will most likely impact your mood. Similarly, your mood is likely to influence your physical health through behavior that can result in changes to a normally healthy diet and the desire or ability to exercise.
Diet and exercise affect metabolic and brain functioning through the sugar levels in blood. Heavy sugar intake can lead to a resistance to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate brain function and control blood sugar levels in the body. Since insulin strengthens the synaptic connections between brain cells, cognition can be impaired when these levels drop in the brain due to high sugar intake or poor diet. Other problems with sugar in the diet can occur when spikes in blood sugar levels can create symptoms for individuals like irritability, mood swings, brain fog and fatigue. These symptoms can easily translate to depression and anxiety when other risk factors are included. Sugar intake can also stimulate the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin and repeated stimulation of this may contribute to depleted levels (of serotonin) in the brain and thereby contribute to symptoms of depression.
Exercise has been shown to have an impact on brain functioning through changes in serotonin and hormone levels and as a result of the endorphins that are released during and after exercise. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory and sleep and has other benefits of increased socialization in some instances. Improved cardiovascular fitness also serves as a protective factor against disease that can otherwise have a negative impact on mood. Exercise that involves a heightened heart rate can be helpful for anxiety sufferers as it can contribute to normalizing this experience and help associate shortness of breath and heart racing with a positive experience rather than fear.
If a few tweeks to your diet combined with moderate regular exercise can have a real impact on the brain and it’s functioning, it’s worth a look. A healthy brain and body goes a long way toward a healthy mind. Eat less sugar, drink lots of water and improve cardiovascular fitness through walking or swimming (with others if possible) and your mind and body will be grateful.