Combat stress with diet and exercise
We have all felt stress and strain at some point, but what about when it cripples your life? Around 12 million adults in the UK see a GP with mental health problems each year, many suffering from stress-related anxiety and depression. An estimated 45 million working days are lost every year through stress-related conditions, at a cost to the economy of over £3,000 million.
You might not think that stress and diet have anything to do with each other, but in actual fact they are inextricably linked. Our whole being, both physical and mental is impacted by diet and exercise. Sometimes it’s easy to see the effects of eating poorly – you may develop type 2 Diabetes if you eat too much sugar or perhaps you will get a diagnosis of high cholesterol after one too many greasy take aways, but other effects can be less obvious and more deadly.
Evidence suggests that eating a healthy diet can actually improve the symptoms of depression and stress. I guess none of us need to look too far to see the massive changes a healthy diet, some weight loss and regular exercise can sometimes make to someone who is feeling down or stressed.
The brain is a complex machine and like any machine if it isn’t treated properly it will not work properly. If we skip a meal, the brain appears to simply increase the drive in pathways leading to increased appetite and because a lack of food activates stress responses there is a lot of evidence to suggest the tight relationship between stress and obesity. On the other hand an absence of food brings about dramatic changes in the way our neurons communicate with each other as well, causing stress and perhaps even depression.
Of course depression and stress occur for many reasons - food and exercise aren’t going to be the primary cause or cure, but a healthy diet and exercising regularly will make you feel healthier and happier.
So what can you do to help boost your mood?
Exercise can reduce the amount of stress hormones released by the body and we should all aim to get at least 30 minutes per day.
Reduce caffeine – While a few cups of coffee during the day can help sharpen your wits, more than five or six can heighten the stress reaction by stimulating excess adrenaline.
A diet rich in carbohydrates in one of the most effective weapons in fighting stress. They stimulate the brain’s production of the feel good chemicals, endorphins and can help stress-prone people cope with stressful situations.
Magnesium can help some of the physical side effects of stress. Low levels of magnesium can make the effect of “noise stress” much worse - roaring traffic, loud music, next door’s kids and the like. Top it up with foods such as nuts, dried fruit, sardines, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and pulses.
The body uses more vitamin C when under stress and a low intake can weaken the immune system and make it difficult to fight infections and heal wounds. Good sources of vitamin C are strawberries, kiwis, citrus fruit, fruit juice, tomatoes and potatoes.
B vitamins are essential for the nervous system as they help to reduce stress levels. Eat lots of wholegrains, lean meat, fish, nuts, milk, pulses and peas.
Make breakfast a priority. Research at Bristol University found that people aged between 20 and 79 who ate breakfast every day were less stressed, and suffered less emotional distress and depression that people who skipped breakfast.
Do Eat a healthy snack mid morning and afternoon to help keep energy levels high.
Don’t Deny yourself the odd sweet treat if it is what you really fancy. Any form of carbohydrate will help calm and soothe. Moderate chocolate consumption can help life more tolerable – according to the Association for Research into the Science of Life.
Although these changes to your diet won’t take the stresses and strains out of everyday living, they will help you cope that little bit better. So go on, eat healthily and feel better.
If you are experiencing excessive stress or feeling depressed for a prolonged period please contact your GP.
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