Healthy Lifestyles & Mental Health
Mental health is getting a lot of attention lately and for good reason. It’s the leading cause of long term disability and affects many Canadians costing the economy $51 billion per year. Sun Life recently released a paper that discusses the link between a healthy lifestyle and mental health. Here you will find a summary of that Paper in only a 5 minute read!
Improve Lifestyle, improve mental health.
What we need to emphasize more, is that positive lifestyle changes in the physical and social realms have been proven to be strong supports of mental health issues. On their own, traditional therapies may not always provide a complete solution to mental health problems.
Certain lifestyle changes have been proven to have a significant and positive impact on mental health, with some studies showing them to be comparable to traditional therapies in some cases. Making lifestyle changes can help people avoid having to go down the path of psychotherapy or drug treatment altogether. You know what they say about an ounce of prevention…
The biggest barriers to lifestyle change are time, money and motivation.
The workplace is ideally positioned to kick start and support healthy lifestyles.
Employees are looking to their employer for help. Eighty percent of respondents to the Canadian Health Index Survey believe that employees have a responsibility to help employees manage stress and promote psychological well-being.
Exercise: a healthy body for a healthy mind.
There is strong research showing that exercise can significantly improve mental health.
A recent review of 30 high quality research studies that focuses on the link between depression and exercise found consistent evidence that physical activity boosts happiness and can prevent future depression.
Moderate activity such as walking 20-30 minutes a day can help ward off depression. One study found that a high level of physical fitness was associated with a more than 50% reduction in experiencing depression compared to low levels of fitness.
Actions to help integrate regular exercise:
- Physical fitness challenges – team or individual focuses
- Physical activity related education sessions
- Stair climbing
- Standing or walking meetings
- Flexible work arrangements to accommodate fitness breaks
- Fund-raiser participation – walk for the cure
- And more
Nutrition: a healthy diet for a healthy mind
Our diets can have a significant impact on our mental health. Studies show consistent associations between diet and anxiety and depression. Increased incidence of mental health conditions such as depressions may be linked to a gradual shift away from a diet based on whole foods to more processed foods.
In a recently study found that a diet consisting of processed foods such as white breads and pasta, and sugar was associated with a higher likelihood of depression and anxiety disorders.
Conversely a diet of veg, fruit, lamb, beef, fish and whole grains foods was associated with a 35% lower risk of having depression and 32% lower risk for anxiety disorders,
Employer Actions to Promote Nutrition:
- Health eating challenges – individual or team based
- Education Sessions (often a dietitian or a naturopath will do a free lunch and learn)
- Health choices for catering meetings
- Offer healthy foods for breaks
- Healthy choice posters in eating areas
- Wellness websites
Relationships: connecting with others for our mental health
There is now compelling evidence that the risk of social isolation is comparable to the risks of smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Rich relationships can also reduce health risks ranging from the common cold, to stroke, to mortality, and mental health conditions.
Managers are ideally suited to be the “first responders” in helping employees who are experiencing mental health issues. The issue is that many managers lack the ability to recognize potential signs of a mental health issue and steer struggling employees to potential solutions
An Employee Assistance Program can help with this.
A Saint Mary’s University study showed that the benefits of manager mental health training were plenty. The manager training was associated with a substantial impact on mental health disability related costs.
Employer Actions to promote healthy relationships:
- Manager mental health training
- Workplace peer support programs
- Health challenges
Relaxation: training to promote a healthy mind
Stress is measured in five areas – emotional, financial, personal, professional, health.
Two key stress reduction programs using relaxation techniques – which studies have shown are effective in the prevention and treatment of anxiety of depression – are yoga and mindfulness meditation.
With the example of yoga, there is evidence that it may produce positive effects akin to the effects of anti-anxiety medications.
Employer Actions to promote relaxation:
- Health challenges with a mental health focus – team or individual
- Stress management educations
- Mindful classes on site or online
- On site yoga
Volunteerism: giving to others enhances mental health
A number of studies have shown a link between those who engage in volunteer activities helping others and lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and well-being.
Jeff Devlin, CFP
Elementus Wealth Management Inc.
**Created with the help of Meghan Vallis at Sunlife Financial**