The Simple Steps: Healthy diet, routine exercise makes the mind grow fonder
April 18, 2018
Why has life become so complicated, so tension filled, so full of requirements to do this or that, so full of demands on your time and energy?
Wake up, and the Twitter feed universe greets you with a better life plan, a new and improved this or that, a warning that yesterday's diet plan is harmful and out, a new and better way to improve your health, one that contradicts the new and better plan you just started last month.
So much constant change, so much to get done, so little time to get it done.
Truth be told, backed by an increasingly well-documented body of scientific evidence, you can improve your chances of a good life, plus improve your physical and mental health, by just adopting a simple set of dietary and exercise principles.
Why the need to encourage or admonish people to adopt healthy exercise and diet habits? Well, for millions of years, humans evolved in and adapted to a world without McDonald's and elliptical training machines.
Nomadic existence wasn't pretty, but humans walked and ran a lot, just to obtain food and outwit other predators. What food there was had no added chemicals or unnatural preservatives, and the human gut evolved to prosper in that very environment.
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While the modern world has produced magnificent machines and enticing and maddeningly tasty food products, it has also conspired to decrease physical activity and the provision of healthy, nutritious meals.
Let's start with exercise
"Use it or lose it" is the governing principle here. No need for expensive machines, color-coordinated stretch nylon exercise wardrobes, or the latest $150 training shoe in the Nike Shoe Parade.
No, just pull the lever on brisk 30-minute walks four or five times a week, or if that's too much, divide that 30 minutes into 15- or even 10-minute segments, two or three times a day.
Develop a routine that works for you and stick to it — maybe early morning before breakfast, or on a lunch break or late afternoon. It doesn't really matter. But, do it.
On that walk, focus on something of interest that moves your mind away from negative thoughts — maybe just your breathing, feeling the air moving into and out of your chest. Or, maybe it's the bounties of nature around you, or the cityscape that eludes you while driving a car, hopping a bus or disappearing into train world.
But what if you're 50, 60 or 70 years old, or disabled in some way? What then? You can't walk for 10 minutes, much less 30, at a brisk pace. No matter. Start slow. Your exercise tolerance will increase over time and you will thank yourself as you feel more energized, more alert, more engaged with life.
Exercise not only improves physical health, but it has proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve mental health.
No matter your age or fitness level when you start, routine exercise will improve your feelings of wellbeing, produce more energy throughout the day, and improve your sleep and your mental acuity.
And exercise is a wonderful antidepressant, as beneficial as pharmaceuticals for people with mild to moderate depression, but without the distressing side effects.
Now … time to look at your diet
So, now you have a regular exercise routine. You're halfway there.
Diet is the other half of the good life. It turns out that diet has most of the same important health benefits as exercise.
Again, the principles are simple. Eat what's natural — unprocessed foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and leafy green salads without the sticky, sugar-laden dressing. Go organic. Eat lots of nuts, beans and lentils.
Stay away from unhealthy chips, crisps, take-out food, ready meals, fast foods, additives and too much alcohol.
Remember that you really are what you eat. Food is fuel for the brain and the body. Ingest impure, processed or degraded foods and the body suffers. The biomechanics of brain and body need to work overtime to expel the stuff that wasn't designed by nature to provide nutrients for man.
If you eat well, you will improve your heart health and decrease the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. You will improve your mental outlook and your mental acuity.
Part of the magic of a healthy diet involves thinking about what you put in your body. The very process of evaluating and building a healthy diet points you in the direction of taking good care of yourself.
It's one way of learning to appreciate one of the most precious assets you will ever have, your health.
So, a healthy diet and a routine exercise program can — and will — change your life for the better. Guaranteed.
Hawaii resident Andrew Whyman, MD, a former resident of Incline Village, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.