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Mental benefits of exercising and diet

Eat healthy and exercise

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Mental benefits of exercising and diet

Simon Nathans/Collegian

Simon Nathans/Collegian

Simon Nathans/Collegian

Simon Nathans/Collegian

By Ben Connolly, Collegian Staff

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“Eat healthy and exercise!” It’s advice given so frequently that a quick Google search of the phrase pulls up over one and a half million results. So, let’s add one more to the pile and discuss the mental health effects of good exercise and diet.

Exercising makes you feel good. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise positively affects mood. The APA makes the positive mental health benefits of exercise clear, stating that mood will be improved “usually within five minutes after moderate exercise.” The same article also poses exercise as a treatment for depressive symptoms, citing studies which found a long-term exercise routine as an effective treatment for reducing scores on depression assessments. Another article also finds that exercise (specifically aerobic exercise), is a way to reduce not only depressive symptoms, but anxiety as well. This is backed up by the American Psychological Association’s previously mentioned piece. In it, it is stated that exercise is like exposure therapy; exposing your body to high intensity situations in the gym is similar to some of the physical reactions experienced during anxiety attacks.

The fact that exercising has mental health benefits may not be surprising, but what may be surprising is the effect nutrition has on the mind. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in depression and its symptoms, but serotonin is rarely produced in the brain. Around 95 percent of serotonin production occurs in your digestive system. Diet impacts mood. People who ate a traditional Mediterranean or eastern diet – a diet with lots of vegetables, unprocessed foods and seafood – had a 25 to 35 percent lower risk of depression than people who ate a typical western diet – a diet with many processed foods, meats and less vegetables. That’s a huge difference.

Other studies examined more specific types of nutrients. Another article by the American Psychological Association looked at omega-3 fatty acids. It was found that subjects with depression who were given omega-3 supplements were far more likely to experience remission than subjects who received a placebo. The experimenters also found that a combination of omega-3s and psychotherapy treatment worked best with over 75 percent of those treated (although, note that this study was done on children, possibly limiting its application). The APA suggests this affect may have to do with the effects of omega-3s on serotonin and dopamine transmission, and omega-3’s link to brain development. Foods high in omega-3s include (but are not limited too) fish, seafood and nuts.

An article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine examines some other possible nutrients. It mentions amino acids in particular as having a role in depression, claiming that supplements may help alleviate symptoms due to the fact that amino acids are used by many neurotransmitters. In fact, both dopamine and serotonin are both made from particular amino acids. The lack of these particular proteins possibly leads to bad mood and irritability.

Another important mental factor is energy. Lack of energy or fatigue is a symptom of depressive disorders, according to the DSM-5. Your diet, of course, can influence your energy. One simple way to increase energy is to increase water consumption. It has been shown that dehydration does, in fact, decrease energy throughout the day. The solution is simple – drink more water. An article by Harvard Health also suggests spreading out your meals, eating less but more frequently. This article specifically says that eating a large lunch can lead to afternoon energy reduction.

Exercise and diet are extremely complicated aspects of life. This article, published by Northwestern University, states that over 60 percent of college students don’t achieve the recommended amount of exercise and over 90 percent don’t fulfill recommended dietary guidelines, so most students aren’t living optimally-healthy lifestyles. The good news is that if you fall into the majority of people who don’t meet recommendations, you can change your routine. With access to the Recreation Center and University of Massachusetts Dining, everyone has the ability to eat healthier, exercise more and feel better.

Ben Connolly can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Mental benefits of exercising and diet”

  1. Burke Harrington on April 9th, 2019 7:00 pm

    Great article Ben. The more students that pick up on this the better off they will be. Exercise and diet should be a required class. It could be the most important thing you learn.

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