Lifestyle Change Can Reduce Mental Illness

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Mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety can be treated with lifestyle changes as successfully as diseases like diabetes, a U.S. researcher says.

Dr. Roger Walsh of the College of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, reviewed research on the effects of what he calls “therapeutic lifestyle changes,” or TLCs, such as exercise and nutrition.

The review, published in American Psychologist, describes TLCs as effective, inexpensive and often enjoyable, with fewer side effects and complications than medications, but requiring a sustained effort.

Benefits of TLCs include:

– Exercise helps people feel better by reducing anxiety and depression, and also helps children do better in school, improve cognition in adults, reduce age-related memory loss in the elderly and increase new neuron formation in the brain.

– Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and fish may help school performance in children, maintain cognitive functions in adults, and reduce symptoms in affective and schizophrenic disorders.

– Spending time in nature can promote cognitive functions and overall well-being.

– Good relationships can reduce health risks ranging from the common cold, strokes and mental illnesses.

– Recreation and fun can reduce defensiveness, foster social skills, reduce insomnia and panic disorders.

– Meditation can improve empathy, sensitivity and emotional stability, reduce stress and burnout, and enhance cognitive function.

– Religious and spiritual involvement focusing on love and forgiveness can reduce anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

– Contribution and service, or altruism, can enhance joy and generosity by producing a “helper’s high.”

Copyright United Press International 2011

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