Mental Health – A Global Crisis
38% of the European population suffer from MHP at a yearly treatment cost of €600 billion. Depression is the most common and burdensome mental health problem. It causes loss of productivity and premature mortality.
There is a lack of data for Africa as a whole. This United Nations article covers some African countries. Nigeria – According to a 2002 University of Ibadan study, 1 in 8 Nigerians are suffering from some sort of MHP. In 2020, there are claims has now risen to 1 in 4 Nigerians.
1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental health challenges – 18.9% of adult population. Mental illness is prevalent amongst women. Women experience depression twice as often as men.
Multiple studies have highlighted the connection between various lifestyle factors and positive mental health (PMH). Research shows that engaging in physical activity has a major positive impact on mental health problems (MHP).
Exercise has been successful in promoting positive mental health because it works. And, it overcomes the mental health treatment barriers of stigma, cost of treatment and side effects of medication.
Exercise Promotes Positive Mental Health
- Exercise helps us manage and reduce stress. It enhances mood and calms us down. It helps us rest and relax more effectively and this increases our ability to withstand the daily rigours and hassles of life. Being able to withstand the rigours of life boosts resilience to stress. When feeling irritable and fatigued, going for a walk improves our mood. This helps us feel happier.
- Exercise helps boost mental clarity and cognitive functioning. This leads to increased learning, better judgement, increased insight, better memory and consequently, greater efficiency.
- Because exercise can have a calming effect on us, it enhances intuition and increases creativity. Exercise increases alpha waves. Alpha waves are relaxed brain waves – a resting state. Alpha waves aid overall mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind/body integration and learning which are associated with stronger intuition and can lead to greater creativity. Exercise builds confidence and happiness which in turn creates self assurance and satisfaction with life.
- Exercise improves the quality of sexual intimacy. A healthy sex life is connected to better physical and mental health.
- Social health – when we participle in group activities, it positively impacts our mental health because we experience a decreased feeling of loneliness and isolation.
- People who regularly exercise tend to feel good about themselves. Exercise helps improve self image, self-esteem and confidence. Exercise helps us feel good about ourselves, not just how we look, but how we feel. Self esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves or how we feel about ourselves. There is a correlation between greater physical activity and healthy self-esteem. People who are consistently physically active tend to have high self esteem. Studies show that women tend to struggle more with self-worth and self esteem than men. When we exercise we feel more positive, more confident and more loving towards ourselves. We glow!
The role hormones play in mental wellbeing
I believe that when God created the world and us humans, he placed on earth the resources to thrive and created us with inner “tools” to live in good health.
People suffering from depression and anxiety have been found to be low on neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) like dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and Serotonin are hormones that play a big role in how we feel. Exercise naturally increases the dopamine and serotonin levels in our body.
Dopamine is a complex hormone that plays an important role in cognitive processes, motivation, reward, motor control, arousal and sexual gratification. It is a feel good neurotransmitter that is responsible for the feeling of happiness. Dopamine imbalances affect our wellbeing.
Serotonin’s biological function are multifaceted. Serotonin is primarily found in the GI tract (90%), however it’s also found in the nervous system and blood. This hormone regulates the intestinal system. Regular exercise helps bowel movement.
Serotonin’s many functions also include regulation of mood, appetite and sleep. Serotonin a natural God given appetite suppressant. It curbs cravings and shuts off appetite. This could be why people who are consistent with exercising through out their lives, tend to be more disciplined with food.
Serotonin also has some cognitive functions, including memory, learning. Serotonin also plays a small role influencing social behaviour.
Endorphins are released in our brain when we exercise. Endorphins mimic the effects of morphine in that it eases pain, regulates emotion and produces a euphoric feeling of being high. Like you can solve any problem or conquer any mountain. This euphoric feeling helps alleviate depressive and other mental health states.
Protect your mental health.
Change your lifestyle – Change your life.
There’s a repertoire of research that point to a list of protective lifestyle behaviours that promote PMH. These behaviours are crucial in preventing MHP.
- Lower Body Mass (weight within a normal range).
- Higher frequency of physical and mental activity (activities that stimulate and enrich the mind like reading, watching live performances/shows, singing etc).
- Moderate alcohol consumption.
- Regular social life. Being part of communities and networks.
The more healthy lifestyle choices we make, the lower the psychological distress. The lower the psychological distress, the higher our satisfaction with life. The higher our satisfaction with life, the more we are able to prevent MHP.
Ways to naturally balance your hormones.
🔸 Eat a balanced diet – follow the pyramid system. Dopamine and serotonin are synthesised from amino acids. Amino acids are found in protein sources. Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. Dopamine deficiency results in lack of motivation, drive, focus, attention, lethargy and low moods.
High levels of dopamine have negative effects – sugar and refined foods cause high dopamine surges. We get addicted to sugar when we constantly crave that high. An interesting revelation about dopamine is, it also rises when we “anticipate” pleasure. For example, just thinking about eating chocolate cake can cause your dopamine levels to rise and make you seek cake out. As your brain predicts the feel good reward of a piece of cake, dopamine increases. This is why it’s best not to walk past a cake patisserie when on a diet. 😂
🔹 Follow the WHO exercise guidelines – 30 mins daily with minimum of 2 strength training sessions weekly. When experiencing MHC, light to moderate physical activity is advised. Don’t compromise by doing too much! Research shows that cardio helps improve low energy moods and weight training is very effective for easing stress, tension and anxiety.
But, first and foremost, if you’re new to exercising, see your doctor before you start.
🔸 Don’t isolate yourself. Surround yourself with people and things that will help boost your mood and put you in a positive frame of mind. Join social networks and communities around your interests.
This article focuses on how to prevent and alleviate mental health challenges like stress, anxiety and depression by understanding our body and using our God given biological functions. To clarify, I am in no way saying people should not see a mental health specialist.
Mental illness: Invisible but devastating: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2016-march-2017/mental-illness-invisible-devastating
Mental Illness in Africa – A Public Health Crisis: http://www.engageafricafoundation.org/_files/articles/engage_africa_foundation_FILE_mentalillnessinafricafinal.docx.pdf