There is strong evidence that regular physical activity reduces health risks and lessens the symptoms associated with some common chronic mental health disorders.
What are some of the possible benefits of exercise?
• Reduced psychiatric symptoms
• Reduced stress resulting from burning off stress chemicals such as adrenaline
• Release of endorphins — chemicals that have a naturally relaxing and calming effect on the body
• Improved memory
• Increased energy
• Improved sleep
• Improved focus
• Better regulation of mood
• Weight loss
• Increased sense of accomplishment and self-esteem
• Distraction from negative thinking
• Additional opportunities to meet others with similar interests
The idea of exercising can be overwhelming for someone dealing with a mental health disorder. It is important to remember that when it comes to physical activity, anything is better than nothing! Start with whatever seems manageable. Even a ten minute walk can be helpful. You will likely be able to increase the amount and frequency of physical activity slowly as you start to feel better. Generally, doctors recommend about 20-30 minutes of exercise three to five times per week, but it can be a good idea to talk with your own healthcare provider to decide what’s right for you. Don’t try to make a huge change in your exercise routine all at once.
The most important thing to remember is to set a realistic and attainable goal. Keep it fun and simple!
Many college students perceive barriers to exercising.
ps for Healthy Eating
If you have a medical condition such as diabetes or food allergies, or other dietary restrictions including those related to taking certain psychiatric medications, you should follow your healthcare provider’s specific dietary recommendations.
Eat small and frequent meals. Small and frequent meals can help prevent you from getting too hungry, which can lead to overeating. This approach also feeds your brain a steady supply of glucose which helps to keep cravings at a minimum.
Keep a regular meal schedule. Eating on a regular schedule can also help prevent you from getting too hungry, help you to plan for healthier meals, and help you get a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips for developing a regular eating schedule:
• Schedule your classes so that you allow yourself enough time each day to have lunch and dinner. Rushing between classes can often lead to unhealthy eating options and habits.
• If you are working a long day, make sure you take your lunch or dinner break regardless of how busy you are. You are entitled to these breaks. Breaks can also help relieve stress by giving you some downtime from the busy environment.
• Keep some healthy and easy-to-grab food options on hand for days when you know you will not have time to take a break. This way you can bring the food with you wherever you need to go and can still eat at or near your regular eating time. To avoid spending a lot of money, invite your roommate/s to join in and split the costs with you.
• Schedule a regular time to have dinner with your friends in the residence hall cafeteria. It always helps to have friends supporting these habits.
• Take turns with your friends making inexpensive dinners at each other’s apartments/houses one or two times per week. Students who have busy academic schedules, such as graduate students, may have difficulty finding time to see their friends. This is also a great way to have a set time to catch up with them.
• Late dinners can’t always be avoided. If you do go out to eat late at night, ask your server to wrap up half of your meal before you even get started. This can help to prevent overeating late at night which may affect your quality of sleep.
Think ahead. Pack healthy snacks to avoid between-meal cravings.
Don’t skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast is associated with reduced problem solving ability, lower energy and decreased motivation. Eating breakfast may also help you to manage your hunger and food intake throughout the day.
Consider taking a multivitamin*. A standard multivitamin can help ensure an adequate daily intake of vitamins and minerals that may improve mental health, including Vitamin 12 and Folic Acid.
*Make your healthcare provider aware of any dietary supplements you might be considering, as some have been shown to interact negatively with certain medications.
Try to include Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Research suggests that Omega-3s play a role in many brain functions, from regulating mood to increasing cognitive abilities. Omega-3s can be found in fish including tuna and salmon, or in fish oil supplements.
Aim for variety, and let color guide you. Ideally, your daily menu should include a “rainbow” of fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting a balanced mix of nutrients. For example, eating plenty of leafy greens can help boost your intake of Folic Acid. Try to find a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables that you enjoy and work them into your diet.
Remember that your beverage choices are as important as your food choices.
• Drinking plenty of water is recommended, to keep the body properly hydrated.
• Limit caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda, or energy drinks, which can have a stimulating effect at first, only to be followed by a drop in energy level and mood. Here are some suggestions for energy boosting snacks that can be better alternatives:
o Fresh fruits like bananas, apples, or berries
o Yogurt with granola
o Low-fat cheeses
o Almonds and walnuts
o Hummus and red peppers
o Half of a sandwich
o A single-serving of popcorn
• Avoid alcohol which can act as a depressant and can interfere with your sleep patterns.
Know that all carbohydrates are not created equal. Processed sugars and refined carbohydrates provide only a temporary feeling of increased energy and fullness. That initial boost may be followed by a desire for more sweets and starches to prop up your mood and energy level. A better choice is complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and healthy grains to ensure maximum nutritional and digestive benefits with fewer “spikes” that can disrupt brain chemistry.
Limit fast food and junk food. Both high sugar and high fat meals can have a negative effect on mood. Use the list below for some ideas for snacks that taste good and also contain great nutrients to fuel your body:
Learn to listen to your body’s signals to know when to eat, and when to stop.
• Eat when you feel physical hungry.
• Try to eat slowly and mindfully. It takes several minutes for your body to signal fullness. Enjoy each bite and avoid overeating by stopping before you feel full.
Regulate your portion size. Many of us tend to underestimate the amount of food we eat and overestimate recommended portion sizes. Use the following tools for tips on regulating portion sizes:
Don’t give up everything you enjoy. Give yourself permission to indulge on occasion. Remember: everything in moderation.
Pulling it all together
Just as a food journal can help you assess your current eating habits, it can also help you to track your progress as you adopt a “new” nutrition plan. A food diary can even be expanded to include recording physical activity and adherence to your medication plan, and to chart the emotions you experience during the day. All of this information gives you a clearer picture of how your self-care activities are working together to help you manage your mental health disorder.
3 Things That Could Help You Sleep Better
1. Stop using all technology 30 min before bed- no cell phone- no lap top- no kindle. The light block melatonin which can help you fall asleep. A 30 min wind down with relaxation and reading (a paper book) can make it easier to fall asleep.
2. No caffeine after 3 PM.
3. Sleep only an hour longer during the weekend than your latest weekday wake-up time.
Tips for a good night’s sleep:
Incorporate a small amount of time each day to be outside in daylight. Time spent outside during the day helps to preserve your body’s sleep and wake cycles. There are many options on campus for this:
• Walk to class.
• Study outside.
• Play a regular outdoor club sport.
• Relax in the sun with your friends.
• Organize a weekly walk outside with your friends to get benefits of both exercise and sunlight.
• Work a job that allows you to be outside:
o Visit the student employment website for other outdoor job options for students (both work-study and non work-study jobs).
Try to get some physical activity on most days. Exercise can promote more regular sleep and wake patterns as well as reduce stress. It’s important to avoid exercise and other vigorous activities three-to-four hours before going to bed to avoid awakening the body even more and making it more difficult to fall asleep.