Science is still hashing out the facts between mind and body connections, but health and fitness experts seem to have undoubtedly known for years that a healthy body must be balanced with a healthy mind.
With an astounding 2 out of 3 American adults considered overweight or obese, and 14 million adults affected by major depressive disorder, we can only wonder what underlying factors are demolishing our nation’s health. In today’s post, let’s take a look at how typical lifestyle habits are affecting our ability to stay healthy, and how shifting to a fitness-oriented healthy lifestyle can help offset the causes of depression.
The American Disconnect in Mind and Body
It’s impossible to ignore the connection between rising obesity and depression rates throughout the U.S. In fact, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Behavior found:
In 1991, only four U.S. states had an obesity prevalence of 15-19%; at that time, no states had an obesity rate over 20%. By 2006, only four states had an obesity prevalence of under 20%; instead, the remainder of states participating in the survey had obesity rates over 25%.
So, are we getting fat because we’re depressed, or are we depressed because we’re fat? Actually, we would venture to guess that the simultaneous increase in obesity and major depression has to do with the 83% increase in sedentary jobs since 1950. For those working behind a desk, a job consists of plenty of mental stimulation, and no physical stimulation. On the other hand, people working in an industry with lots of physical requirements rarely have opportunities to engage their minds or express creativity.
But why is this small imbalance important? Let’s take a look at the effect exercise has on the brain, and shielding your mind from depressive thoughts.
The Connection Between Mental and Physical Health
Exercise has long been known to increase cognitive function by introducing your mind to new experiences and forcing a connection between mind function and bodily reactions. In fact, exercise has also been known to shield people from higher stress levels, and prevent lapses into depressions.
When your body begins to push itself physically, mood boosting endorphins (like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA) are released, most doctors agree that mental stress can cause a number of serious symptoms, including:
After these types of issues became more prevalent in the medical community, doctors like Jasper Smits recognize the benefits of exercise on a person’s mental state, and have actually begun to treat depressed patients with exercise regimens instead of antidepressants.
Using Exercise to Improve your Physical and Mental Health
Exercise is an excellent way to engage your mind, particularly when you participate in new activities like dancing and yoga, which challenge your body to move and coordinate in new ways. Additionally, many fitness and wellness gurus believe that a balance of the following activities can promote weight loss by also creating a well-balanced mental state:
- Daily Physical Exercise: You saw this coming. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical exercise per day is essential for good digestion, muscle function, and mental wellness.
- Learn New Things: After a long day of work, it’s natural to feel mentally drained. Learning new things, however, can actually give you spurts of energy, and also releases endorphins that keep your brain happy and you feeling fulfilled.
- Be Creative: Tapping into your creative side helps you live in the moment and enjoy the small moments of life, and challenges you to think and behave in new ways.
- A Balanced Diet: To live any type of healthy lifestyle, eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods is a must. For those trying to lose weight, consider incorporating protein shakes into your diet as a meal replacement to keep your calorie count down without compromising the amount of nutrition you’re taking in.
If you’re struggling with weight loss, taking a few days to look inward at your mental state can shed a lot of light on why you’re not able to maintain your desired fitness level. Remember: keeping your body fit and healthy means engaging your brain in productive, positive ways throughout the week. What do you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle? What’s your favorite meal (or meal replacement) that keeps you motivated? Share with us in the comments below!