Every new year we set about making New Year’s resolutions. Usually they are related to our physical health, going on a diet, joining a gym or drinking less. But what about our mental health?
Stop silly resolutions
A lot of people make strict and prohibitive New Year’s plans to lose weight, frequently inventing strange, ineffective, nonrealistic, unhealthy diets and rationally impossible to follow exercise plans, especially for someone that has not done any exercise for many years.
There is evidence that such resolutions do not lead to healthy and maintained weight loss and instead, restrictive dieting leads to long-term weight gain with bad, dangerous side effects in people’s mental health.
Mental health is central to every part of our lives, how we interact with family and friends, how productive we are at work, and how we feel when we are alone.
If your goal is mental and physical good health, stop focusing on trying to be thin, and instead work on self-acceptance of the way your own body is built and on being healthy.
Desperately trying to be skinny will not make you lose weight in a healthy way and will not make you happy.
Nutrition and mental health
The more we learn about the relationship between the gut and the brain, the more evidence we get about the role of nutrition not only in physical but also in mental health. People who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower levels of depression than those who eat less fruit and vegetables.
Move your body
Exercise is the obvious resolution that a part of you wants to forget about. Better not, as exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce depression, anxiety, improve sexual function and maintain cognitive function.
The good thing is any sort of movement helps, so forget about hard to keep on exercise plans and focus on finding enjoyable exercise that gets you out socialising, as it is easier to continue doing something that it is enjoyable than forced exercise done with the main goal of improving appearance.
Not socialising, being isolated is a better predictor of early death than either diet or exercise, and a stronger predictor than smoking. Multiple social connections help to cope with stress and reduce anxiety and depression. Being around people is necessary for good mental health and consequently for a better general health.
Reducing TV and phone time will give people time to exercise, to socialise, to generally feel better as excessive screen time is linked to poor sleep quality and depression. Screen time should be part of a happy life, not a replacement for it.
New Scientist reports the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases was last updated in 1992, and the next version, due 2018, will recognize gaming addiction as a genuine mental health disorder.
Why not make a serious effort to get off all your screen devices and get outside, see the real world and the real people?
Live healthier… live longer
Trying to be as healthy as possible is not just about adding more years to your life, but adding healthy years. Populations who follow healthy forms of behavior show a 60% decline in dementia in addition to a 70% reduction in type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke when compared with unhealthier peers. Studies also find healthy 50 years old live longer without disability, then those who are overweight or smoke.
Yes, we all eventually must die of something, but we want to be happy, well, independent and pain-free leading up to that inevitable moment. But we may not have to die so soon and science suggests having a healthier lifestyle even at age 50 is associated with a four to seven year longer life expectancy.
Rather than being related just to age, variations in health-related quality of life are also linked to sustained factors such as exercise, nutrition and social engagement.
Even later, at an older age, improving lifestyle factors can benefit longevity, as avoiding an unhealthy weight, not smoking, maintaining a social network and engaging in leisure activities, around age 75, sees another five years added to a woman’s and six years added to a man’s life span.
Being healthy, physically and mentally is about small, incremental, sustainable changes over many years, not about non-realistic, unsustainable New year’s (silly) decisions.
Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice
Consultant in General and Family Medicine
General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos
Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve