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Depression—a mental health disorder characterized by a depressed mood, which causes significant impairment in one’s everyday life—is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization. This illness comes with crippling symptoms, from feelings of hopelessness to fatigue, irritability, and suicidal thoughts. Some people fall into a depression after a tough breakup or difficult loss, while others become depressed out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. Still, there’s one factor that always plays a significant role in the course of this disorder: the quality of one’s lifestyle.

How Do Mental and Physical Health Interact?

Take a look at the bigger picture and ask yourself this: do I prioritize and maintain a healthy lifestyle? If you aren’t sure how to answer this question, consider your habits. Do you eat a nutritious diet? Do you exercise regularly? Do you get enough sleep? These are three major keys that can make or break your mental health and play a huge part in the development of depression.

“Sometimes, there is nothing that can save someone from depression,” explains Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics. “It’s true. The psyche can be a dark and dismal place, no doubt. More often than not, though, someone who makes a decision to eat right and exercise—particularly as part of an overall meta-goal which they are striving towards—is living up to a kind of physical and mental potential. They are overcoming their weaknesses and are standing up for themselves. They are shouldering responsibility.” He goes on to explain just how prioritizing exercise and a healthy diet is prioritizing ones physical and mental health: “Proper physical health affects the psyche, since part of that health includes the secretion of hormones and chemicals, which elevate your mood, lower your blood pressure, ease pain and stress, and make you less anxious and more open to experiences.”

So, how can you choose the right foods that will nourish your body and mind, and just as importantly, how should you incorporate exercise into your everyday to further support a healthy mind? Backe says that you must beware of poisonous foods—like those packed with sugar and unhealthy fats—and opt for more nutritional ones—like fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains. And when it comes to exercise, the most important thing is that you’re doing it. And preferably, you’re enjoying whatever you’re doing. All in all, “when you are moving your physical self around, strengthening it, and providing it with proper sustenance along the way, the mind/body connection is strengthened by association,” says Backe.

Make Healthier Decisions: 5 Easy Tips

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Look good, feel good”? Though we may not like to admit it, this statement often rings true—which makes that link between physical and mental even stronger. And it isn’t a shallow notion, despite how it may sound: it all boils down to feeling proud and confident of the work that you’re putting in to like the person staring back at you in the mirror.

“If you are on the way to a certain goal—and certainly if it is a valued one such as health and fitness—you will feel more confident and more powerful than you know,” Backe explains. “The ability to look in the mirror and say to yourself with a straight face: ‘I am on the right path.’ This is a genuine life-saver, and it can help you turn around on so many things. Even with all of your shortcomings and faults, suddenly you may feel you have the real ability to act as a guiding force in your own life. It is a type of awakening, a real game-changer for some. It is a glimpse of some unknown or partly-known potential that is glimmering in front of you and saying: you can do this. You got this. One step at a time.”

Now to the most important part: putting a plan in place to make healthier decisions and, in turn, reaping the many benefits we’ve discussed up until this point. It’s important to note that everything won’t change in an instant; instead, you’ll start to feel better over time once you’ve assumed a healthier lifestyle. So, where to start? How about with the following guidelines:

    1) Drink plenty of water.
    Water is one of life’s essentials, yet the majority of us don’t drink enough of it. To ensure your body is always hydrated and replenished, make it your mission to drink at least 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

    2) Get enough sleep.
    Another essential many of us neglect: sleep. Sleep requirements vary from person-to-person, depending largely on age and lifestyle, but most need at the very lease 7 hours each night to function properly. Check your sleep needs with the National Sleep Foundation and ensure your habits align.

    3) Exercise for 30 minutes a day.
    If you’re not used to exercising, doing so for 30 minutes every single day might sound like a big commitment—but it doesn’t have to be! Chances are, you’re already getting in 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Doing strenuous work around the house, walking your dog, playing with the kids, are all valid examples.

    4) Keep your plate colorful.
    This is another good general rule of thumb to follow. If you make it your goal to keep your plate colorful, you’re more likely to eat nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, as opposed to bland-colored, high-processed ones.

    5) Show yourself some love.
    And lastly, take some time out of each day to show yourself some love. Say some positive affirmations in the mirror, take a well-deserved bubble bath, buy those shoes you’ve been eyeing. Whatever makes you feel good (as long as it aligns with your new healthy lifestyle), do it.

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