Sleep, Exercise, Diet: What Ranks #1 for Mental Health?

Sleep, Exercise, Diet: What Ranks #1 for Mental Health?
Fit woman eating healthy salad after workout

( – We often juggle multiple elements to keep ourselves functioning at our best. It’s not always easy being human, especially when any of those elements fall out of balance. As we do with our physical health, we might need to offer our mental well-being a little help sometimes to keep it from slipping into unhealthy places.

We might think the best strategies for mental health upkeep involve extreme measures. While in some cases, more significant measures are necessary, the best places to start are often the simplest. Sleep, exercise and diet are the top three interventions we can take on our own to improve the stability of our mental health — and while all three are vital, one reigns alone as the most important. Here’s the breakdown.


Research has found strong ties between diet and mental illness risks. Processed foods and other components of the Western diet likely contribute to many cases of depression and anxiety. Adopting eating habits that are more in line with the Mediterranean diet could reduce many people’s risks of developing these issues.

Experts have been learning a lot recently about the connections between the gut and the brain, and most now agree that when we fuel both better, our moods are more likely to remain positive and stable. We may also improve our gut health by including prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements in our diets.


We can take for granted how interconnected our bodies are, but one fact we can’t deny is that exercise affects nearly every part of us — even our brains. Research suggests that just 1 hour of exercise weekly is enough to reduce depression risks by 12%. The activity’s intensity doesn’t appear to be a factor, so even a walk around the neighborhood counts.

Another study found even 10 minutes of exercise, practiced regularly, can improve mood. Even more, evidence suggests that a single workout causes the brain to release several neurotransmitters, hormones and other chemicals that are vital to optimal functioning.


Diet and exercise are both necessary for good mental health, but our minds are most dependent on adequate sleep. Getting enough is so important that mental health experts can actually predict a patient’s long-term prognosis based on whether or not the person suffers from sleep disturbances.

Some studies have linked poor sleep quality directly to depression and anxiety, as well as gastrointestinal disturbances. Other research has shown people who have insomnia are more likely to experience psychotic episodes.

All research aside, anyone who’s suffered from repeated sleepless nights knows all functioning — mental and physical — starts going down the tubes when insomnia takes hold. We can survive for years without exercising, and we can even go some time without food, but just a few days without sleep will render even the strongest-minded person incapable.

Good mental health can be a balancing act, and when any of the major components falls out of whack, our wellbeing is often the first to slip. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition are all key elements; we can’t feel our best without all three. Getting enough isn’t always easy, and we may need to devise strategies to include more of each in our routines, but the payoff can be huge.

~Here’s to a Healthier Life!

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