Can Healthy Habits Really Improve Mental Health?

Good foods are good for our bodies. An excellent way to approach integrating healthy choices to your diet is the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It So Simple. Stick to the basics, buy local if you can, and stay away from processed foods. The key to eating healthy is moderation and variety in your diet. If you are unsure about what foods you should avoid and what foods you should consume, think of a pyramid. The biggest block at the base of the pyramid is fruits and vegetables. The next block is whole grains. After, it’s dairy products or dairy alternatives that are rich in vitamin D. Finally, the smallest block at the top is red meat and processed meats like cold cuts, which should be eaten in small quantities. If you don’t particularly like fruits and vegetables, remember that you can experiment and cook foods in different ways. For example, you might not enjoy boiled vegetables, but you may love roasted vegetables. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of eating healthy foods.

Vitamin D is another key nutrient. It is good for our bones and it can help reduce inflammation. The body manufactures vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun and it is also found in some foods. Because it can be hard to get the recommended daily dose of vitamin D, a vitamin D supplement could be a healthy addition to your diet. However, it is possible to have too much vitamin D. Before you start any supplements, speak with your pharmacist or doctor to make sure that you are taking the appropriate dose.

Adding exercise to your routine may seem like an overwhelming task, especially if you have a lot going on in your life, but the trick is to start small. Begin by adding a few extra steps in your day by parking farther away from the store in the parking lot, by taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or by getting off the bus a stop early. Sign up for a fitness class or scroll through some fitness apps to find an exercise routine that suits your interests. If you are worried that you won’t be able to keep up with your exercise, ask another person to join you and make it fun. They can encourage you to exercise, and in turn, you can support them, too.

There are a few keys to success when making any kind of lifestyle change. First, make time for your new healthy choices in your daily schedule. For example, you might want to wake up earlier to exercise or take 30 minutes to write out a meal plan for the week. Remember, any amount of healthy change is a step in the right direction, even as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day. Second, identify your priorities and your reasons for making these healthy choices. After you work at them for a while, take note of any positive changes that you experience; these benchmarks of progress will encourage you to continue. Third, don’t try to do too much all at once. Setting your goals too high can make it difficult to make progress, and if something is too hard, it’s easy to become discouraged and give up. Instead, set small, attainable goals, and adjust them as you go along. Finally, take things one day at a time. Making healthy dietary and exercise choices is an ongoing process. Don’t be hard on yourself if you slip back into old habits from time to time. Just try and recommit to your new healthy choices the next day and as often as possible. The changes you make will not be a miracle cure for everything, but they can help improve your overall quality of life.

–Gabrielle Lesage
From Share&Care Winter 2023

This article is based on a Hot Topics Facebook Live video event called “Nutrition and Exercise and Mental Health” with Cindy Bassel-Brown, Diana Verrall, and Tony Alfonso. Visit to watch the recording.

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