The Magic of Nutrition and Exercise

healthy food and exercise weights

By Christa Banister

We’ve all been there. You order the deep-dish pizza of your dreams, and you’re living your best life. With extra cheese, no less.

But after you’ve enjoyed the ooey-gooey bliss, it doesn’t take long for you to feel, well, anything but energetic. The walk you planned to take? Probably not happening. And if you’re noshing close to bedtime, chances are you won’t feel quite as rested when you wake up the next morning.

Now of course there’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge. But if your eating habits regularly trend toward the indulgent, processed, or sugary, it’s not just your physical health that’s impacted. Research from Harvard Medical School shows that nutrition and mental health are also interconnected.

Why What We Eat Matters

Chances are, you’ve probably heard of serotonin. But did you know that 95% of this neurotransmitter that inhibits pain, regulates our appetite and sleep, and moderates our mood is produced in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract?

Considering how our GI tracts are lined with a hundred million nerve cells, our digestive system is basically pulling double duty. It’s not only breaking down whatever we’ve eaten in any given day, but it’s helping guide our emotions through the production of bacteria that plays an essential role in good health.

woman eating an apple after a workout

In Japan and the Mediterranean where fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, and unprocessed grains are the dominant choice of cuisine, the risk of depression is 25-35% lower. Scientists attribute this decline to an absence of refined sugar and large portions of red meat and dairy that are commonplace in the Western diet.

Since our mood is ultimately regulated by the brain, it needs proper fuel for peak mental health and wellness. Which is why what we put into our body is so important. A study conducted by Clinical Nutrition links diets high in processed foods, fast food, and sugar to an uptick in depression and anxiety.

But why is this exactly?

Say you have the afternoon sleepies and you reach for a candy bar. It feels great initially. It may even give you the little boost that you needed. But it’s short-lived because the lack of nutrients mess with the regulation of blood sugar. When these levels aren’t stable, our adrenaline kicks us into fight-or-flight mode that contributes to stress and anxiety. A similar result happens when we’re skipping out on meals altogether.

But if you reach for, say, a handful of almonds instead, it helps recalibrate your blood sugar. In general, incorporating a wide variety of colorful produce, healthy fats, legumes, and lean meats into your meals and snacks is a strong, stabilizing measure.

Move Your Way to Better Mental Health

Whether it’s at work, during your morning commute, or while bingeing the latest, greatest Netflix series, we can probably all agree we sit too much.

While the benefits of a non-sedentary lifestyle have been shouted from the proverbial rooftops, have you ever considered the connection between exercise and mental health?

In addition to being linked with improved mobility and heart health, the release of endorphins — a feel-good hormone — during exercise helps put you in a better mood.

In addition to being linked with improved mobility and heart health, the release of endorphins — a feel-good hormone — during exercise helps put you in a better mood.

Research from Cureus shows that incorporating fitness into your routine can also help with:

  • Improved sleep
  • Management of cravings for substances
  • Stress relief
  • A sense of community in a group setting
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Better frame of mind and clarity
  • Prevention of chronic illness and premature mortality says that moving regularly also promotes neuroplasticity, which helps the brain with learning new skills, languages, and activities. As your heart pumps faster during exercise, it also increases life-giving oxygen to your brain which leads to improved memory, more flexible thinking, and self-control.

And if you’re not a gym rat, no worries. You can experience the same positive benefits from regular walks, playing a team sport, biking, swimming, and more.

Ways to Stay Physically & Mentally Healthy

No doubt, the benefits of exercise and good nutrition make implementing lifestyle changes well worth the investment.

But what do you do if eating well and investing the ideal 150 minutes of activity per week doesn’t come easily? What if you’ve been successful before but something like the COVID lockdown or the holiday season derailed your routine and made it difficult to start up again?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are healthy habits. If you gravitate toward microwave dinners and your idea of exercise is walking from your car to your front door, try implementing smaller, more manageable changes.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

Upgrade Your Carbs

Instead of reaching for that bowl of pasta or having white rice with your protein, the Mayo Clinic suggests choosing whole grains instead. Sub in whole wheat or whole grain bread for toast or sandwiches. Try brown rice, quinoa, or oats for the most fiber per serving.

Make Yourself Move

If exercising doesn’t come second nature, try walking for 30 minutes a day. This may include parking further away from a store entrance, a quick jaunt around the block, sneaking steps in after sitting at your desk for a while. HIIT training or signing up for a 5K will always be there, but staying active is what’s important. In fact, there’s significant health rewards to walking 30 minutes per day, according to Shape.

Enjoy Some You-Time

If walking, jogging, or working out at a gym seems boring, reframe it as your me-time. Find a podcast you like to listen to while working out. Treat yourself to a refueling smoothie after you finish. Find a scenic route that’s not the norm.

If walking, jogging, or working out at a gym seems boring, reframe it as your me-time. Find a podcast you like to listen to while working out.

Buddy Up

Always wanted to try pickleball but never got around to it? Invite a friend or two to join in. Maybe there’s a studio workout you’d rather not try alone. Buddying up helps with accountability. Same goes for nutrition. Maybe you learn how to make healthy foods in a cooking class together. Or share what’s been working for you.

Treat Yourself With Kindness

Good habits take time, and even the healthiest eaters and workout kings and queens have a bad day, week, or month. If you’ve found yourself in a bit of a slump, you can experience the benefits of exercise and good nutrition by simply starting again. Make a plan and take it one day at a time. Your body and mental health will thank you.

Whether you’re addressing addiction, mental health challenges, or processing past trauma, a vital part of the journey to healing and wellness is fueling well and moving your body.

At The Meadows Texas, we understand that food and exercise affect the way we heal. We put that into practice with our groundbreaking nutritional program that best supports physical and mental health. We also have state-of-the-art amenities that make exercise a joy including: nature trails, frisbee golf, a spacious workout room and air-conditioned gym, swimming pool, and more.

To learn more about our commitment to lifelong recovery and how nutrition and movement play a central role, don’t hesitate to contact us.