One of the best changes I have seen in the medical community since I joined as a physical therapist is recognizing the importance of mental health and its impact on all aspects of our lives. The pandemic has increased the overall prevalence of depression and depression-like symptoms. This increase has led to many new individuals being unsure of how to take care of their mental health. Even though it will take a qualified practitioner to diagnose a mental health disorder properly, there are a few things that you can do to help prioritize your mental health.
Exercise proves to help with mental health treatment.3,4,5,6 It has mood-elevating effects on the body through the regulation of neurotransmitters within the brain. There are many different forms of exercise to partake in when helping to take care of your mental health: running, bodybuilding, powerlifting, walking, hiking, etc. Here, the critical measure of success isn’t necessarily the duration or intensity of activity but rather the exercise frequency.3 If you’re able to, getting regular exercise outside will help your body produce more vitamin D, which helps to improve depressive symptoms.2
Food can play a significant role in helping take care of your mental health; typically, quality food is linked with a quality life.7 In addition, research in this area has also shown the importance of gut bacteria and the overall health effect that our gut can have on our physical and mental health. Making healthier food choices may allow a person to change their gut biome for the better, positively affecting their mental health.3 Along with making healthier choices, we can aid this process of altering our gut biome for the better by consuming more fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, to name a few) due to the increased content of beneficial bacteria.8,9
The practice of mindfulness refers to the ability to be aware of oneself in the present moment. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. With the broad definition established, almost any task can be deemed as practicing mindfulness, but we should have intent with our actions. These actions will allow you to be aware of how you’re feeling in the present state and may be beneficial for improving your mental health. Activities to practice mindfulness can include walking, spending time in nature, journaling, and meditating. Anecdotally, I can attest to adult coloring books being a great way to let go of some mental stress while allowing for creativity at the same time.
Whether you are dealing with a mental illness or are just wanting to take control of your mental health a bit more, the above options may be a great way to get started. For more information regarding mental health, contact your primary care physician, or reach out to a licensed psychiatrist or other mental health experts. If you want to become more active to help alleviate some mental stress, reach out to your local Athletico to book your free assessment with a licensed physical therapist today.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation during the COVID-19 Pandemic – United States, June 24–30, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm.
2. Chatterjee, Rhitu. “Many Americans Are Reaching out for Mental Health Support – but Can’t Get It.” NPR, NPR, 24 Aug. 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/08/23/1030430464/mental-health-parity-therapy-high-cost.
3. Herbert C, Meixner F, Wiebking C, Gilg V. Regular Physical Activity, Short-Term Exercise, Mental Health, and Well-Being Among University Students: The Results of an Online and a Laboratory Study. Front Psychol. 2020;11:509. Published 2020 May 26. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00509
4. Biddle S. Physical activity and mental health: evidence is growing. World Psychiatry. 2016;15(2):176-177. doi:10.1002/wps.20331
5. Giménez-Meseguer, Jorge, et al. “The Benefits of Physical Exercise on Mental Disorders and Quality of Life in Substance Use Disorders Patients. Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, MDPI, 23 May 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7277811/.
6. Hu S, Tucker L, Wu C, Yang L. Beneficial Effects of Exercise on Depression and Anxiety During the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Narrative Review. Front Psychiatry. 2020;11:587557. Published 2020 Nov 4. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2020.587557
7. Germain L;Latarche C;Kesse-Guyot E;Galan P;Hercberg S;Briançon S; “Does Compliance with Nutrition Guidelines Lead to Healthy Aging? A Quality-of-Life Approach.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23351626/.
8. Hills RD Jr, Pontefract BA, Mishcon HR, Black CA, Sutton SC, Theberge CR. Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1613. Published 2019 Jul 16. doi:10.3390/nu11071613
9. Selhub EM, Logan AC, Bested AC. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. J Physiol Anthropol. 2014;33(1):2. Published 2014 Jan 15. doi:10.1186/1880-6805-33-2