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The Mind-Body Connection: How Nutrition and Fitness Play a Role In Mental Health


Woman chopping strawberries

Exercise and nutrition aren’t just important for physical health— they both play a big role in mental health, too. Studies show that people who exercise regularly report having 1.5 less days of poor mental health compared to those who don’t exercise. Even walking can lessen the number of poor mental health days by 17%. With 95% of serotonin (a chemical that affects mood, sleep, digestion, and more) being created in the gut, it’s no wonder that a nutrient-dense diet plays a role in a person’s mental health. Likewise, mental illnesses like anxiety and depression have been linked to higher risks of diseases that affect our physical health such as diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and more. Here are a few ways fitness and nutrition affect mental health. 


Regular exercise increases energy and mental clarity
Whether it’s a brisk walk or a hardcore HIIT session, taking part in some form of exercise regularly can improve energy and mental clarity. Exercise increases oxygen circulation in the body; this increase in oxygen helps your body function and use that oxygen more efficiently. Exercise also boosts cardiovascular health, leading to higher endurance. You’ve no doubt heard of the “runner’s high,” that feeling of euphoria after an intense workout. This is because endorphins — the chemical responsible for stress reduction, pain relief, and overall wellbeing — rise in the body after physical activity. Additionally, getting physical also leads to greater mental clarity and focus as it also increases blood flow to the brain, promotes the release of serotonin and dopamine, and improves the ability to stay on task. This increase in energy and clarity can put you in a better mental state, where you feel ready to take on the day.


Good nutrition boosts your mood
When your body doesn’t get the nutrition it needs, it can result in feelings of sluggishness, stress, anxiety, and even depression. Serotonin is one such cause, and another is disregulated blood glucose levels, which can lead to elevated or lowered glucose both of which may impact one’s mood. Additionally, when your body is malnourished, meaning there is an imbalance in natural nutrients, your mental health may be affected as well. For example, when you get enough carbohydrates and fats, your brain gets the energy it needs to function properly. Sufficient protein levels can help with mood and thought regulation as well as improved cognitive functions. 


Regular exercise improves sleep
If you’ve ever experienced that intense exhaustion after a hike, a long run, or an intense boot camp workout class, you know that exercise can improve sleep. Not only does exercise increase adenosine, a chemical that assists with sleep regulation and relaxation, but it also helps with your circadian rhythm. The effect of fitness and getting good rest is cyclical— proper sleep helps your body recover after a workout, increase endurance, and build up those muscles used during said workout. More endurance and muscle tone will help you push yourself during your workout, which in turn will help you sleep better.


Good nutrition reduces stress
There are countless benefits to eating a whole food-based diet, one of which is stress reduction. Chronic stress leads to an elevation in cortisol levels, which can lead to several health issues including mood swings, weight gain, high blood pressure, and more. Because it changes the way our body uses protein, fat, and carbs, the body requires higher levels of vitamin C and vitamin B to help with energy. However, eating a balanced diet that includes many of these nutrients that help combat stress — such as oats, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, bananas, and fatty fish — can help reduce cortisol levels, aid in relaxation and mood regulation, and stabilize blood sugars. 


Bringing it all together
Our mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. As a result, any diet, fitness, or mental health program should address how exercise and nutrition impact mental health and how mental health impacts our nutritional and exercise needs. At Grokker, we work with experts in the fields of mental and physical wellbeing to develop programs that effectively help members meet their goals in sustainable, practical ways. Our Weight Loss Jumpstart Guide, for example, addresses this mind-body connection through regular food, mood, and movement check-ins. To learn more about how Grokker supports holistic wellbeing, schedule a demo today



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