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Can You Eat and Move Your Way to Better Mental Health?

Mental health – and how to manage it – is a topic that has gained increased attention between the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a public willingness to be more frank about it. Oftentimes, people strive for around the clock happiness and wind up struggling to manage the stressors of everyday life, resulting in sadness, frustration, or anxiety. Pharmaceutical alternatives or self-medication (e.g., online shopping, food, or alcohol) can provide temporary relief, but there are other – and more sustainable – ways to manage the day-to-day mental health challenges we inevitably face. 

Food and exercise as medicine


Many people find it difficult to stick with a healthy diet and regular exercise – whether it’s due to a lack of time, willingness, or motivation. And it can be even more challenging if you’re coping with mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety. But in addition to preventing and improving physical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis, exercise can help boost your mood and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. And a healthy, well-balanced diet can not only help us look better but also help keep our minds clear and focused. This is not to say that only healthy food and exercise can help with mental health challenges. For many people, medication is necessary to help manage their symptoms and live a full life. But physical movement and good food can be helpful additions. 

So how do you get started when you’re already not feeling well? Professional coaching can be a critical factor in creating the structure and accountability to start – and keep – moving and eating well. A professional coach can work with you to develop workouts with an intended outcome and help improve your diet and relationship with food, both of which can have a positive impact on your mental health.

Keep it simple

It’s important not to get sucked into the whirlpool of fad diets, especially if you’re facing challenges with your mental health. It’s well-known that most diets fail, and the last thing a person struggling with depression or anxiety needs is to obsess over a strict diet. That will only add to the stress of working toward change and feelings of failure when you’re inevitably unable to adhere to a fad. Instead, choose an eating lifestyle that is sustainable for you. It’s also important to eat food that you actually like (and is still nutritionally dense and calorically appropriate for your goals). Telling yourself you’ll eat a salad everyday when you hate salad is a surefire way to fail and to reinforce the feelings of despair and stress that you’re trying to ease. 

It’s just as important not to jump into an overly intense or unrealistic workout regimen. When it comes to exercise, sometimes simple really is better. Start with walking. Humans are genetically evolved persistence hunters and our physiology responds well to walking in most cases. Of course there may be situations where walking is challenging – people who are dealing with nerve damage or have ankle, knee, or hip function problems, for example. But for the most part, walking is a great way to get your body moving. If you’re able to, you can add more intensity to a walking routine by adding intervals or time, or by increasing your speed. Your schedule, capacity for exercise, and mental state can all be factors in determining if and how you add more intensity to a workout routine. However you decide to up the intensity, it’s important to build up to it as more high impact movement, like running, can increase your stress response and jar your joints and muscles. 

Another element to consider adding is integrated strength training. Incorporating movements with resistance bands or bodyweight releases endorphins into your body which act as analgesics that dim your perception of pain. This process is similar to how medications provide pain relief and can be critical to feeling good, especially if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or feelings of lethargy.

Do the work – with support

At the end of the day, only you can be the one to kickstart a lifestyle of healthy eating and regular exercise. Taking the steps to discover ways to keep both your mind and body healthy is a path you have to take for yourself. But you don’t have to go it alone. A high-quality coach can provide you with the support and structure to get you going and keep you motivated. And while they can’t take that walk or cook that healthy meal for you, they can offer their expertise, guidance, and accountability for you to fall back on. 

At Forge Fitness and Nutrition, we have a team of coaches ready to support and guide you on your wellness journey. Reach out today to see how we can help you achieve your fitness and nutrition goals.