The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the capacity to adapt to life’s adversities successfully. Resilience involves many factors, from individual worldview to the availability of social support. But you may not know that diet and exercise can also contribute to greater resilience. Below, explore the link between mental health, physical activity and nutrition.

Minimizing health-related stressors 

There is a strong link between the mind and body. When you aren’t feeling your best physically, you are more likely to feel stressed mentally. If you have a chronic illness or simply aren’t feeling fit and healthy, it’s more difficult to adapt to changing circumstances. Getting in shape can help reduce your risks of developing a new chronic condition while also helping to keep any existing ailments in check. 

Reducing the physical toll of mental stress 

When you’re under mental stress, your body can develop inflammation. You’ve probably felt this from time to time. Your stomach might churn, you might feel tired and lethargic, or you may experience muscle tension or other physical effects. 

According to UW Medicine, a healthy diet can help combat this inflammation. Choose nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Stick to comforting dishes that are easy to prepare. Allow yourself a favorite treat, but don’t go overboard. And be sure to eat slowly and mindfully. 

Boosting overall mental health 

The American Psychological Association notes that physical activity enhances resilience in several important ways: 

  • Feel-good chemicals. Exercise induces a rush of mood-boosting brain chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin, reducing symptoms of both anxiety and depression. 
  • Practice stress. Physical exertion causes a stress-like response in the body. All body systems involved in stress reactions are forced to work together under challenging circumstances, mimicking the results of a stressful situation. This teaches your brain and body how to cope with stress more efficiently. 
  • Improving brain function. A vital part of mental resilience is the cognitive ability to assess conflicting incoming information and calmly make decisions about it. Exercise enhances both memory and cognitive skills in both the post-workout rush and the long term. It also helps to boost clarity or the ability to focus on what’s relevant while filtering out distractions. 

Breaking the cycle 

It’s important to note that eating right and exercising may be the last things you feel like doing when you’re stressed. Your mind and body will tend to go into a self-protective mode, in which you may feel a powerful urge to lay on the couch eating junk food and binge-watching your favorite shows. 

The best solution is to start laying the foundation for stronger mental resilience before you are under a lot of stress. But if you’re already in a highly stressful situation, it’s not too late. You can make the proactive decision to get up and get moving. Starting small with a five-minute stretching session or one healthy snack is okay. Getting started is always the hardest part, so be kind to yourself. As you achieve small goals and reap the benefits, your brain will naturally want to do just a little more.