Look After Your Noggin: Mental Health Naturally

We are becoming increasingly aware of the growing issue of mental illness within the Australian population. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing indicated that an estimated 3.2 million Australians (20% of the population aged between 16 and 85) had a mental disorder in the twelve months prior to the survey.

Unfortunately psychiatric drugs, despite having their place particularly for severe conditions, represent a class of drugs with many side effects and the often time reliance on such drugs for milder conditions does little to address the root causes of some mental health disorders.

So what can you do to prevent and even contribute to the early treatment of these disorders?
1. Feed your brain: Ever hear the saying that fish is brain food? The brain is 60% fat so it makes sense that the majority of fat in our diets should consist of healthy fats. The omega 3 fats found in deep sea fatty fish and flaxseed oils are the best sources of a particular type of omega 3 fatty acid called DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), which can enter the brain.
2. Nourish the body: A rich and varied diet will ensure the intake of brain friendly nutrients, such as the B vitamins which help make brain chemicals such as serotonin and antioxidants which mop up nasty free radicals.
3. See your friendly psychologist: talking through your issues with a qualified psychologist will help get you back on track quicker.
4. Get on to mental health issues with natural treatment early. St John’s Wort is one of the most studied herbs with demonstrated effectiveness for mild to moderate depression. Other herbs can treat anxiety and insomnia such as Passionflower, Valerian and Kava and help your resistance to stress for example the Ginsengs, Withania and Rhodiola.
5. Last but not least, exercise – check out the benefits of exercise for mental health below.

Benefits of Exercise and Mental Health
by Michelle Davis from Targeted Fitness

While the majority of fitness research focuses on the physical benefits of exercise, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that physical activity also promotes improved mental health.

Researchers at Duke University demonstrated several years ago that exercise has antidepressant properties. During one research study, conducted by the University, of people suffering from depression 60% of the participants who exercised, for 30 minutes three times a week, overcame their depression without using antidepressant medication.

How does exercise help?
One theory is that exercise triggers the production of endorphins, which are naturally occurring opiates. Endorphins act in a similar way to morphine and provide natural pain relief.
Exercise also increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the body.  These three chemicals have been associated with elevated mood, and are boosted through exercise in a similar way to taking antidepressant medications, such as Prozac.

The bottom line is that most of us feel good after exercise. This is not only due to an increase in natural chemicals, but also the sense of achievement and social connections that exercise can create.

The following tips should get you off to a good start:

Keep it simple: There is little difference in the levels of mental health between moderately and highly active people. A highly detailed and demanding exercise program can be daunting and become overwhelming, keep it simple and go at your pace that way you’ll be more likely to continue
Get moving: Start off with walking, slow jogging, cycling or some light weight workouts. Just choose something you enjoy. There is no need to do more than 20 or 30 minutes of exercise, 3 – 4 times per week. Remember not to put pressure on yourself if you can only exercise once a week then that’s far better than nothing at all.
Don’t go it alone: It might be easier to start with if you make an appointment with a fitness professional at your local gym to discuss your goals and design an exercise program. The gym staff, in particular your personal trainer will provide you with support, education and motivation needed to make a difference.

Once you get your head and heart right it will all come together, you will see the world through clearer eyes and feel much better about yourself, you will be able to think clearly, make decisions easier, sleep better and in some cases reduce your medications or even stop taking them all together. Persistence is the key, as is listening to your body, you will have good days and bad, but eventually the good will far outweigh the bad.

Michelle is the owner of, and Personal Trainer at Targeted Fitness

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