Here in the U.S., mental health conditions affect as many as one in five people - around 47 million of us. As devastating as COVID 19 has been, current case numbers are sitting at half that amount. The issue is that the pandemic's mental health effects may be far longer lasting than the disease itself. COVID 19 has also caused disruptions to our mental health indirectly. The measures are taken to slow the spread of the virus have affected our physical activity levels, eating behaviors, sleep patterns, and our relationship with addictive substances, including social media. To this last point, both our increased use of social media while stuck at home, as well as the increased exposure to disaster news over the past year, have amplified the negative effects of social media use on our mental health. Thankfully, the news is not all bad, especially with new plans for rolling out vaccines. So in this video, I want to give some recommendations for boosting your mental health as we get through this pandemic together.
There’s new, even stronger evidence for the positive benefits of exercise on mental health. All of the most common aerobic exercise forms, such as walking, running, or stationary cycling, have displayed these improvements. Encouragingly, these benefits have still been present at follow-ups up to 12 months after the interventions ended.
Resistance training, too, has provided similar reductions in depressive symptoms over an eight week period compared to cardio. You don’t have to exhaust yourself, either - low to moderate-intensity exercise improves mood and vigor, while high-intensity training, if overdone, has more potential to increase tension and fatigue. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least two to three 20-30 minute exercise sessions per week. During isolation, we can enjoy the saved transit time and decreased costs of working out at home.
Epidemiological studies investigating the relationship between diet and mental health have steadily increased over the last decade. Research shows the increased risk of developing depression and anxiety when consuming a highly processed, Western diet. On the flip side, studies have also emerged showing the link between a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, fish - and low in processed foods - and the protection from developing common mental disorders.
The Mediterranean diet has been ranked the healthiest way of eating by dietitians and doctors for the 4th year in a row. It’s a nonrestrictive, mostly-plant based eating style that has been extensively researched, with study after study showing benefits for weight loss, lower risk of diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, better digestion, and even healthier aging. The diet is based on eating habits in regions like Greece and southern Italy, the so-called blue zones, which are regions where people live the longest, healthiest lives.
More than a third of adults experience sleep difficulties. In the first half of 2020 alone, U.S. Google searches for ‘Insomnia’ increased by 58%. More often than not, these problems occur in conjunction with physical and mental health burdens. Since COVID 19 has disrupted our daily routines, our ‘sleep hygiene', as it’s known, is suffering as a result.
Depending on the weather (and the restrictions) in your area, you may be able to get outside for a certain amount of time each day. I suggest you take this opportunity wherever possible. The restorative properties of interacting with nature include lower stress levels and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Getting outside also means you’re spending less time on social media and away from your phone, and the importance of this can’t be underestimated. You’ll also get the benefits of healthy sunlight exposure - weather permitting. This plays a vital role in mental well-being by regulating our energy levels, and it also a source of our vitamin D supply.