Sleep, Exercise, and Diet Are the Wellness Trifecta—but This One Is Most Important for Mental Health, Study Finds

We know that a complex combination of behaviors and lifestyle factors affect our mental health and general well-being, and that physical and mental health are inherently linked. Just as healthy habits of sleep, diet, and exercise - the "big three" factors of a healthy lifestyle - are critical to staying physically in top shape, they also correlate significantly with mental health. Research has found that eating well, getting regular exercise, and making sure there is enough quality sleep each night can all help increase mental well-being and reduce the risk of conditions like depression and anxiety. Conversely, deficiencies in any or all of these behaviors can negatively affect mood and outlook.
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Everyone should aim to eat, exercise, and doze off to improve their minds and bodies (for the most part, anyway - an occasional piece of cake arguably is extremely important to mental health, too). Of these three factors, sleep appears to be the strongest predictor of mental well-being - and sleep quality in particular, closely followed by amount of sleep, according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology. This suggests that, of course, you should prioritize all three for optimal health and longevity. However, doing extra careful work on your sleeping habits could be the most beneficial strategy for keeping your mood high and minimizing stress, worry, and mood swings.
For this cross-sectional analysis of the individual and collective relationships between sleep, diet and physical activity and the psychological wellbeing of young adults, researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand interviewed more than 1,100 young men and women from New Zealand and the United States received an online survey that measured their sleeping, exercise and eating habits. as well as the "Outcome measures for depressive symptoms as measured by the Center for Epidemiological Depression (CES-D) scale and well-being (as measured by the Bloom Scale)".
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When controlling the covariates - different traits such as demographics, ethnicity, body mass index and health status of the respondents - the results showed that the quality of sleep or how well they sleep, closely followed by the amount of sleep or how much they sleep, are both greatest indicators for the depression level of the participants as well as for their general well-being or "thriving". (Inadequate, shallow, and / or intermittent sleep, for example, has been linked to an increased risk of mood disorders, addiction, and emotion regulation in adolescents.) The published article states, "People who slept in the range of 8 to 12 hours a night (no more or less) and those who had a better quality of sleep reported fewer depressive symptoms. "
Falling right behind sleep is physical activity, the second highest predictor of depressive symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins that lift your mood and increase energy. Regular physical activity has been shown to help treat depression and anxiety. On the other hand, inactivity is linked to poorer mental health in young adults. While diet was crucial, it appeared to be the weakest indicator of depressive symptoms and poor well-being of the three. "Only one nutritional factor - the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables - predicted a higher level of well-being, but no depressive symptoms when controlling covariates," the authors found.
It is important to note that all results are purely correlative rather than causal, as these measurements were self-reported and only observed, not changed or tested in any way. However, the patterns uncovered in the analysis offer fascinating insights into the potential hierarchy of modifiable habits. In the future, these findings could help guide future research and treatment of mood disorders to focus on maximizing sleep quality and improving mental health, especially in adolescents.
How does this affect you? Take this as another reminder not to skimp on precious sleep, maintain that steady fitness routine, and eat as many fresh, unprocessed foods as possible.
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