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Why Eating Right, Sleep and Exercise Is So Important To Your Mental Health

This is the post I’ve been planning for a few weeks now. It was originally going to be my “Living With BPD” post for the week, but then I decided it was too important to get lost under that title. So here you have the results of my research. Enjoy and learn something!

So what, besides taking your meds, can you do to have better mental health? We all know the basics: eat healthy, sleep well and exercise. But why? Why are these things so important to our mental health? Let’s have a look!

Eating healthy gives us essential nutrients and vitamins. We all know this. These vitamins effect how we feel from day to day. But why? The vitamin B complex is an essential vitamin to look at. It’s a proven and well documented fact that a deficiency in these vitamins can lead to depression over time. Did you know that vitamin B6 is essential to the production of Dopamine and Serotonin? A lack of B12 can lead to mood swings, mania and paranoia, to name a few. Vitamin B3 and vitamin B5: both so important. A lack of the vitamin B1 can cause depletion in energy. It leads to a sluggish feeling. Long term it can lead to deep fatigue, suicidal tendencies, depression and anxiety. It can also lead to insomnia which just makes everything worse from there. It goes on and on. For that matter, did you know alcohol destroys the vitamin B in your body? Vitamin C is essential in easing the state of depression a person is in. (Good to know my obsession with orange juice is actually helping me in the long run.) Magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and manganese all combine in order to produce and release serotonin and other compounds that can have positive effects on a person’s mood and mental health. So my next step is to research which food give me the all important Vitamin B complex. (Whole grains, meat, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chile peppers, tempah, beans, and yeast. Unprocessed foods!)

What about sleep? We all know that sleep makes a huge difference in how we feel through the day. Too little or too much and we feel like crap. But why? Did you know that the average life span of a rat is 2-3 years? Did you know that the average life span of a rat deprived of REM sleep is 5 weeks? Did you know that a rat deprived of all sleep only lives about 3 weeks? Sleep is necessary for the nervous system to work properly. Sleep deprivation leads to mood swings. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction. Sleep gives them a chance to shut down and repair. Deep sleep also leads to increased production and reduced break down of proteins. Proteins are the building blocks for cell growth and the repair of damage from factors like stress. Activity in the parts of the brain that control emotions and decision-making processes is reduced during deep sleep, meaning this type of sleep may also help people maintain emotional functioning while they are awake.

Now, what about exercise? Exercise has anti-depressant properties. But why? We all know exercise produces endorphins but scientists are now thinking endorphins might just improve mood. Studies have found that exercise increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine: The three big neurotransmitters of mental health! Those meds you take? Yeah, they are trying to boost these three. Bottom line? There is a reason you feel better after you exercise!

So what are you doing to improve your mood? Is your only answer focused on the meds you take? Could you be doing more?

4 Comments

  1. Comment by C:

    There's some interesting cutting edge brain research being done right now about glia cells and regulation of both mood and sleep. Glia are the brain cells you have which are not neurons. Back in my day (when I took a couple of neuroscience classes, 15 years ago) these cells were dismissed as the uninteresting cells which just provided support for the neurons, passing on food to them and such. These days people are looking closer and finding that it's a bit more complex than that. Exactly what the story is, is still up in the air (darned cutting edge research) but maintaining a good sleep/waking cycle may allow you to work with your glia cells and you want to make them happy–because they help to make you happy :)

  2. Comment by Walkingborder (Karen):

    It's amazing how much there is still to learn about the brain.

  3. Comment by Kristin:

    Great post, Karen. All you wrote is true and not really too difficult to follow. Sleeping and eating are fun – just tweak the amounts and ingredients. Exercise, not so much fun for most people, but hanging out with kids takes care of that.
    You clearly have been doing some research. When are you fitting it in? You sound super busy with work, kids and driving between it all.
    Congratulations for keeping the ball in the air. It sounds like hard work, but you are doing it!
    xx kris

  4. Comment by Walkingborder (Karen):

    Thanks you for your kind words! I'm not sure how I fit research into the schedule. For the longest time I didn't. But I finally got to it Monday night. I did all my research and wrote out the post in a few hours on Monday after work. The kids were in bed so I just did my thing.

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