You may know how much factors such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep can benefit your physical health. But those same practices can help your mental health, too.
Research suggests environmental factors can cause mental health impacts. According to a report in Neurospychiatric Diseases and Treatment, unhealthy lifestyles — lacking diet, exercise, and sleep — can have a negative effect on people’s mental health. In the opposite direction, healthy habits can benefit both your physical and mental well-being.
“There is a definite connection between mind and body,” says Jennifer Beckjord, PsyD, senior director, Clinical Services, UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. “In order to maintain overall wellness, we need to take care of both mind and body.”
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How to Create a Healthy Routine
Everyday habits can have an effect on both our physical and mental health. Following a healthy routine can be positive for your overall well-being.
A well-rounded healthy routine should cover several different factors:
- Diet: Consuming a diet high in sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium can lead to obesity and related conditions, such as heart disease. Your brain also needs the right nutrients. Try following a diet that includes all five major food groups — grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy — and is low in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Make sure to consume the appropriate amount of calories for your age and fitness level.
- Exercise: The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-level cardio activity each week for physical health. But fitness can help our minds, too. Studies show that regular exercise can improve your mood and lessen the effects of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Sleep: Sleep deprivation and/or fatigue often is a symptom of and associated with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may need to examine your sleep habits. Try to stick to a sleep schedule, keep your room at a comfortable temperature, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and electronics before going to bed.
- Unhealthy substances: Alcohol, drugs, and nicotine are stressors that can affect our mental health. Limit your use of these substances.
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How to Keep a Healthy Routine
It can be difficult to build healthy habits. It can take months for an activity to become a habit. But if you keep working at it, eventually you can build a healthy routine.
- Start slow: Examine your current routine when you decide to begin a new one. Aim to improve in small increments, increasing the size of the steps as you become more comfortable. “Assess what’s working well and what needs to change, and then take it from there,” Dr. Beckjord says. “You can set small, achievable goals for yourself in terms of swapping out not-so-great habits for better ones.”
- Be patient: Don’t expect a radical transformation overnight. Creating routines and becoming healthier both physically and mentally can take time. “I think it can be easy to get frustrated and give up because it’s hard to build healthy habits,” Dr. Beckjord says. “It takes patience, it takes work, it takes practice, and it takes time.”
- Celebrate small victories: Make sure you recognize achievements along the way, even if they seem small on the surface: an extra few minutes of exercise, or a further distance.
- Don’t beat yourself up: If you miss a day of exercise, have a bad night of sleep, or slip in your diet, don’t let that cause you extra anguish. Creating a healthy routine doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Just try to do your best.
- Plan ahead: Depending on your work or family schedule, you may need to find the time to get out and exercise. Planning out your day — when you’ll exercise, what you’ll eat, and when you’ll sleep — can make it easier to follow your routine.
- Don’t do it alone: Following a routine can be difficult on your own, so enlist family members, friends, co-workers, or others to join you. You can track each other’s progress and hold each other accountable.
- Take a break: If something is causing you a negative mental impact, like anxiety, sometimes stepping away for a few moments can be helpful. “Doing simple things like spending a couple minutes
outside and getting a breath of fresh air can make a huge difference,” Dr. Beckjord says.
Healthy routines may be difficult to start, but they’re important for mental and physical health. For more information, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.
American Mental Wellness Association, Staying Healthy. https://www.americanmentalwellness.org/prevention/staying-healthy/
Matteo Briguglio, et al, Neurospychiatric Diseases and Treatment, Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Sleep Hygiene (HEPAS) as the Winning Triad for Sustaining Physical and Mental Health in Patients at Risk for or with Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Considerations for Clinical Practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6955623/#!po=46.6102
Harvard Health Publishing, Sleep and Mental Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
HelpGuide, The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
Mental Health America, Creating Healthy Routines. https://mhanational.org/creating-healthy-routines#1
National Sleep Foundation, How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? https://mhanational.org/creating-healthy-routines#1
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.