Lifestyle Medicine Week 2021 Day 5

It’s Day 5 of Lifestyle Medicine Week and today’s focus is on another of the core lifestyle medicine pillars: mental wellbeing and stress reduction/management.

Our mental health is a core component of our overall health, which is defined by the World Health Organisation as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.”

At BSLM our approach is based on the idea that we all have mental health – and that all of us are at risk from mental ill health during the course of our lives. Our lifestyle has an impact on our mental health, and at the same time mental illness can impair our lifestyle. We advocate a “lifestyle first” approach for cases of mild depression or anxiety.

In the UK, the government has now committed to a ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ strategy, based on six objectives to improve mental health, wellbeing and outcomes for people with mental health problems.

Mental ill health is a significant element of the global chronic disease burden, with an estimated 264 million people around the world suffering from depression alone. Depression is the leading cause of disability globally and a number of lifestyle factors have been linked with the risk of developing depression including poor diet, sedentary behaviour, harmful substance misuse, poor sleep and lack of social connection.

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased pressure on people’s mental health, with loneliness, isolation, grief and loss, all having a negative impact on our psychological wellbeing. In the early months of the pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists predicted a ‘tsunami of mental illness’.

Lifestyle medicine offers people prevention and treatment options to improve mental health. It has proven benefits for both helping people to maintain good mental health and also supporting people who are suffering from mental illness.

There is now a growing body of evidence to support the case for lifestyle interventions to improve mental health. These include studies which have demonstrated the effectiveness of a plant-based Mediterranean Diet and avoidance of processed foods for the treatment of depression, as well as others which have demonstrated the psychological benefits of physical activity for our minds and our bodies.

Lifestyle medicine’s approach starts from the principle that the human body and mind are not separate – and that, what is good for the body, is good for the mind.

As Charlotte Marriott, BSLM Mental Health Special Interest Group Chair, said recently: “The idea of mind body dualism is no more. We no longer think that the brain and the mind are separate, they are part of our whole mind body system. And everything that affects the body affects the mind and vice-versa.”

The discipline of Lifestyle medicine is able to offer people the support to address the modifiable risk factors which impact on our mental health.

As Charlotte explains: “There are things which we cannot change, the non-modifiable risk factors, such as our genetic predisposition to ill health, but there are also modifiable risk factors. Those are the things which we can all improve on in our lives to reduce our risk of becoming unwell.

BSLM Mental Health Special Interest Group

The British Society of Lifestyle Medicine Mental Health Special Interest Group is a multidisciplinary group which aims to improve the way mental health care and support services are delivered in the UK – and to advocate for the use of lifestyle approaches to improve patients’ mental health.

To find out more contact BSLM’s SIG chair Charlotte Marriott:

Further Resources

Richard Pile Blog: Purpose and Meaning are Vital for Our Wellbeing

SMILES Trial: randomised control trial which looked at the role of dietary improvement (modified Mediterranean Diet) in the treatment of depression

Dr Andreas Schenk Review: Royal College of Psychiatrists position statement
on antidepressants and depression

Sam Manger Article: Lifestyle interventions for mental health

Mental Health Tips

  • Disconnect to Connect
  • Practice Mindfulness, yoga or tai chi – things which can help us to relax in a deep way
  • Schedule ‘time outs’ for just you
  • Avoid unhealthy habits – smoking, drinking alcohol – which we think in the short term will help reduce stress but in the long-term do us harm
  • Exercise – physical activity can help us to burn off stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline while releasing positive “feel good” hormones such as serotonin and dopamine
  • Journal – why not keep a gratitude journal as a way to nurture positive psychology and see the good things in life
  • Be organised – plan, schedule, automate as much as possible