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Nutrition and Physical Activity in Anxiety: Healthy lifestyle, healthy mood

Quite often, those experiencing anxiety are told that increasing the amount of exercise they engage in, or having a healthier diet will aid in managing symptoms. But why exactly is that the case and what are the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity?

Regular Exercise

Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins in the body that have been linked to more positive mood and well-being in individuals. Studies have suggested that forms of exercise involving aerobic fitness such as jogging, swimming walking and cycling at a moderate or low intensity have the most positive impact on mood and anxiety. Exercising in this way approximately three times a week for around 15-30 minutes may significantly increase endorphins in the body which regulate the body’s stress response, therefore minimising stress levels. The endorphins released during and directly after exercise increase positive mood, however this is not the only benefit. Exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, meaning the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (aka the stress response) is better equipped to manage stressors in day to day life (Guszkowska, 2004). Among these benefits, engaging in physical activity throughout the day is also a great way to fatigue your body, leading to deeper, longer, and more restful sleep.

Other forms of exercise that have been increasing in popularity include yoga and pilates. Both forms of exercise focus intimately on connecting mind to body, through breathing and slow, controlled movements. Slowing the heart rate and focusing on body movements can aid in decreasing common symptoms of anxiety such as increased respiration and heart rate, through the meditative process. Allowing yourself to focus on your mind, breathing and posture is a great distraction from external stress and is a great way to spend some time alone. Even setting aside ten minutes a day can help relax the mind and body.

A Healthy Diet

In addition to exercise habits, the food we eat every day can alter the chemical balance in our brain and body, which may either help us to combat stress and low mood, or make us more likely to experience anxiety or depression (Appleton & Rogers, 2004). The benefits of good nutrition have been spoken and written about extensively and while it is agreed that diet can affect mood, the exact cause of changes are still being explored.

For anxiety, stress and depression, there are certain foods and nutrients that have been found to be important for increasing overall health and minimising anxiety (and no, unfortunately it isn’t chocolate and ice-cream, although they seem like a good option at the time). Foods such as asparagus and blueberries are rich in important vitamins and nutrients including folic acid, vitamin B and vitamin C. Low levels of these nutrients have been linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression in individuals, so ensuring we eat food that are rich in these vitamins is incredibly beneficial. Avocado is another great fruit which is rich in vitamin B, potassium and important for regulating blood pressure; also important for healthy nerves and brain cells. Almonds are rich in vitamin B2 and useful for boosting the immune system. Eating a balanced diet will not only help you feel better physically, but also mentally!

The relationship between diet and mood is a complex one. For further reading, the Food and Mood Centre has information available online:

www.foodandmoodcentre.com.au/diet-and-mental-health/

Written by Holly, ADAVIC Volunteer

References

Appleton, K. M. & Rogers, P. J. (2004). Food and mood. Women’s health medicine, 1(1), 4-6.
Guszkowska, M. (2004). Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatria polska 38(4), 611-620

 

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