Cardiovascular disorders, obesity, diabetes and cancer are strongly determined by lifestyle. Smoking, physical activity, alcohol intake and diet have a major impact on physical health and the development of disease. Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and overeating are increasing to such an extent that the World Health Organization has warned that “globesity”—a global epidemic of overweight and obesity—is taking over the world.
A healthy or unhealthy lifestyle can be equally important in your mental health and sense of well-being. Exercise, nutrition, diet, time in nature, relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management are all important aspects of a healthy lifestyle.
And recent research shows that a wide variety of lifestyle changes can impact mental health. Examples include exercise, which has been used in the treatment of depression, and meditation, which has been shown to prevent age-related cognitive loss. In another study, fish oils were used to prevent psychosis in high-risk youth.
Your lifestyle doesn’t just improve symptoms of mental illness, it can also improve overall well-being. Meditation, spending time outside and doing recreational activities are fun and can enhance self-esteem. Exercise and a healthy diet can improve physical health, as well as mental health.
Finally, healthy behaviors and happiness spread in the same way that a cold spreads. In a 2008 study, researchers found that happiness spreads as much as three degrees of separation—that is, to your direct friends and family, their friends and family and their friends and family. Your healthy lifestyle has an impact not only on you, but on the people you care about and spend the most time with, as well as the people they care about and spend the most time with.
This post is part 1 of a two part post. Part 2 will review specific lifestyle choices and how they impact your mental health.
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response.
Cyclist image available from Shutterstock.