Our brains change as we age, and our mental abilities do as well. Aging can cause mental decline but not always in a negative way. There is no need to worry about cognitive impairment and many people live with mild memory problems all their lives without any serious effects on their daily functioning or independence.
Good health habits are important for increasing brain health and mood, but they could also help lower your risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
The foundation of good mental and physical health is leading a healthy lifestyle. We all strive to achieve a “good mood,” whether we are achieving it right now or for the long run. A large number of factors influence our mood every day, including physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress, posture, financial stability, social well-being, weather, season, menstrual cycle, clutter, social media & news exposure, genetics, relationships, and even the color of our clothing.
In this post we discuss 17 natural ways that can improve your mental health and mood through living a healthy lifestyle backed by scientific research:
- 1 1. Get mentally stimulated by increasing your mental activities
- 2 2. Get enough sleep
- 3 3. Do more physical exercise
- 4 4. Make dietary changes: Eat a Mediterranean Diet
- 5 5. Spend time in nature
- 6 6. Spend time with pets
- 7 7. Spend time with a close friend and get socially involved
- 8 8. Laugh a lot!
- 9 9. Seek sunshine – Natural Light Improves Sleep
- 10 10. Consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids
- 11 11. Eat dark chocolates
- 12 12. Watch a cat video!
- 13 13. Listen to happy music
- 14 14. Give a hug!
- 15 15. Be kind and do something nice for someone
- 16 16. Turn off the TV
- 17 17. Don’t spend too much time on Facebook
- 18 Wrapping it up
1. Get mentally stimulated by increasing your mental activities
Scientists have discovered through research with mice and humans that brainy activities stimulate nerve cell connections and may even help the brain generate new neurons, building up neurological “plasticity” and providing a safety net against future cell loss through a functional reserve.
Our brain is like a muscle. If left unused, it will deteriorate. If you engage in mentally stimulating activities, your brain will remain healthy. Maintaining a healthy brain can be done through a variety of activities, including crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading, playing cards, and completing crafts that require both physical and mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts. It’s a kind of brain cross-training. So, mix things up to maximize effectiveness.
2. Get enough sleep
A good night’s sleep is crucial to your brain’s health. Sleep supposedly clears abnormal proteins from your brain and consolidates memories, which boosts your overall memory and mental health.
Sleep quality was ranked as the highest indicator of living well in The Sainsbury’s Living Well Index. Almost 60 percent of those living a very healthy life reported feeling rested a lot or all of the time after sleeping.
Ideally you need to sleep for seven to eight hours straight every night instead of short bursts of two to three hours. Young teens might benefit from as much as nine to ten hours per night. Sleeping consecutively allows the brain to store and consolidate memories effectively. Sleep apnea damages your brain health and may hinder you from getting uninterrupted sleep. Speak with your doctor if you or a family member suspect you have sleep apnea.
Here are some ideas to aid you in relaxing and getting a good night’s sleep:
• Take a hot bath or shower before bed
• Having a room that’s dark, cool, and quiet
• Listening to relaxing music
• Sleeping only on the bed (not doing homework, watching TV, or talking on the phone)
• A back rub, hand massage, or foot massage
3. Do more physical exercise
Regular physical activity appears to benefit the brain in a number of ways. Research shows physical activity reduces the risk of cognitive decline and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in people. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which is believed to be responsible for these benefits. In addition, it tends to counteract some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occurs with age, thereby reversing some of the problems.
Even an hour’s worth of exercise a week can help prevent depression, according to a study of 30,000 Norwegians. And the more exercise you get, the better. You just need to find something that you like doing.
Utilizing your muscles can also benefit your mind, according to research. Exercise regularly increases the number of small blood vessels that transport oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain responsible for thinking. Moreover, exercise also stimulates the growth of new nerve cells and boosts the connections between brain cells (synapses). As a result, animals with aging brains are more efficient, plastic, and adaptable, leading to better performance.
Aside from lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels, exercise improves blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain and ears.
You can reap the benefits of exercise without having any athletic ability at all and still benefit from exercising regularly. Spend 30–60 minutes exercising several times a week. Walking, swimming, playing tennis, and any other moderate aerobic activity that increases your heart rate are excellent options.
In a 2010 study published in Neurology, it was suggested that walking at least six miles per week could preserve memory in older people. A study also found that regular exercise prevented brain shrinkage associated with aging.
Exercise benefits your heart, bones, lungs, blood sugar, blood pressure, and circulation. It appears to be good for mental health as well, according to research.
Exercising regularly takes the pressure off you that makes it easier to be happy at work or in school; helps improve mood; gives you energy for exercise which is good for your health; alleviates symptoms of depression by helping to get rid of negative feelings like anger and sadness.
It also inhibits the release of stress hormones in the body, allowing us to relax and sleep better. Additionally, it is a natural antidepressant. The endorphins you make when you exercise work as a natural antidepressant and lift your mood.
4. Make dietary changes: Eat a Mediterranean Diet
The quality of your diet directly affects your brain health. Mediterranean style diet is called a healthy-fat, high-carbohydrate plan. It includes lots of fruit; vegetables; fish (usually white), nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil) and plant sources of proteins. It contains much less red meat and salt than what we typically eat in the United States.
Research shows that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower chance of developing cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
There is more research to be done about how diet affects the brain. Our research indicates, however, that omega-3 fatty acids from extra virgin olive oil and other healthy fats are necessary for your cells to function properly, may reduce your risk of coronary artery disease, and may enhance mental focus and slow cognitive decline in older adults.
5. Spend time in nature
Nature positively influences mood for a number of reasons. First of all, it keeps you out in fresh air by taking you outside to sunlight which boosts Vitamin D levels in your body and lets you appreciate the beauty of nature. Spend as much time as possible in green, open spaces to improve your mental and physical health.
Getting out of the house, especially around trees is said to make you feel better, because it takes your mind off things and helps you relax. By hiking or walking through a forest, you feel more connected to the earth and understand that other people have different lives than yours. You are humbled by nature’s power over humans’ own control of it. This reduces stress levels and helps people feel more relaxed, happy, energetic, contented or at peace with themselves or others than they usually would without it.
In a 2015 study, people who walked in urban and natural locations for 90 minutes were compared for brain activity. A nature walk seems to reduce activity in an area of the brain overactive during times of depression or stress, the prefrontal cortex. Researchers are not exactly sure why nature has this effect. Some scientists think humans are adapted to respond positively to nature because this is what our ancestors flourished in.
It’s actually physiologically beneficial for the body to spend time outdoors. It lowers blood pressure and cortisol (a stress hormone). The beauty of nature refreshes the brain, which improves concentration, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
There is increasing evidence that people need more outdoor space to communicate and socialize in cities where green natural spaces are scarce. In a study by the University of Illinois researching Chicago public housing, researchers discovered that people who lived in areas with more grass and trees socialized more with their neighbors, experienced a greater sense of community, and felt safer than people living in concrete buildings.
It is easier to interact with other people and participate in social activities in parks and other outdoor spaces. It is also important to maintain a strong social network to maintain your mental health, and a lack of social connections is associated with poor health, stress, and depression.
6. Spend time with pets
In a study by Washington State University, just ten minutes of petting a dog or cat resulted in a major drop in cortisol, the stress hormone.
Studies have shown that pets can reduce stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression symptoms in patients. According to U.S. Census data, 80 million households own a pet, and 74% of those households say their pet improved their mood as well as 75% said their pet improved the mood of a loved one. Even if you cannot have a pet of your own, visiting someone else’s pet can improve your mood and make you feel better overall. There are even dog-walking services that provide both puppy time and exercise!
Researchers have found that interacting with animals can boost feel-good chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin and reduce stress levels.
Research shows a strong social support network is crucial to mental health. You can boost your self-confidence, feel better by chatting with friends, and feel accountable for making positive changes in your life when you chat with them. Laughter with friends can also boost overall happiness, since laughter is the best medicine. According to research, people reported being healthier and more happy after socializing.
Social interaction can help prevent depression and stress, two factors that contribute to memory loss. If you live alone, find ways to connect with family, friends, and others.
Research indicates that being in solitary confinement causes brain atrophy, so staying socially active might have the opposite effect and strengthen your brain.
8. Laugh a lot!
Research shows that laughter increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that boosts mood. Moreover, it oxygenates our bodies and reduces inflammation, resulting in a calm, happy atmosphere.
The majority of people believe that smiling is a sign of happiness. Interestingly, it turns out that the opposite is also true: smiling can make you happier! Smiling triggers the release of dopamine and other mood-improving neurotransmitters in your brain. Whenever you begin to feel stressed or your mood begins to dip, remember to smile. You’ll feel better even if you smile for no reason!
9. Seek sunshine – Natural Light Improves Sleep
Patients in therapy reported less emotional distress on sunny days, according to a study over six years. Researchers have also found that vitamin D has a positive effect on mental health.
Your natural biological clock is regulated by light. Prior to the invention of artificial light, people arose each morning with the sunrise and went to bed at dusk. Natural light still affects sleep cycles in a similar way, despite modern life’s changes. In a study conducted at different latitudes with differing amounts of sunlight each day, workers whose sleep was poorer had less natural light.
It is important to get sufficient sleep because insufficient or poor-quality sleep can negatively impact your mental health. A recent report by the Australian National Sleep Foundation suggests that sleep can be used as a tool to fight depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
10. Consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to alleviate depression and other mood disorders in many promising scientific studies. Fish and flax seed are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
According to researchers, Omega-3 fatty acids easily penetrate the brain cell membrane, resulting in positive effects on neurotransmitters. Omega-3s are also believed to reduce inflammation, one of the causes of depression in some patients.
Omega-3’s are available as supplements or by consuming foods high in Omega-3’s, such as walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, mackerel, oysters, salmon, caviar, and sea bass.
(Note: pregnant women or patients with bipolar disorder should consult their doctor before increasing Omega-3 intake.)
11. Eat dark chocolates
A study has shown that dark chocolate, and specifically cacao (the raw seeds from which chocolate is made), can relieve symptoms of depression. The flavanols in it convert chemicals into serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer. Additionally, it contains theobromine, which helps reduce anxiety and gives you energy.
A dark chocolate shake has already proven very effective in stabilizing mood. If you buy the low-fat versions of this product, make sure not to add any condiments or sweeteners because it can turn bitter when heated by the body (making the flavanols less active).
12. Watch a cat video!
Watching cat videos made people feel more energetic and positive, according to a survey conducted among nearly 7,000 people. They were more pleased with the videos than they were guilty of procrastinating. And dog videos are great, too!
13. Listen to happy music
According to research participants, listening to upbeat music while actively trying to feel happier helped them feel better as long as they merely focused on the positive feelings and not the aim to be happy.
However, if you develop an obsessive desire to be happy in your everyday life because of the music, this is potentially dangerous. Listening to happy music can shift your positive mood so much that it becomes less tolerable than before. So avoid listening just when you think about getting happier!
If lovely tunes put you into a better mood during work or study sessions but don’t help afterwards when everything has returned to normal again (or vice versa), it might be time for an afternoon nap. However, if you are trying to deflect painful emotions by using music as a mechanism, the benefits of this practice are reduced or eliminated completely.
Alternatively though, Listening can help your brain’s performance in key tasks especially intelligence-related ones because parts of the brain that deal with memory and learning work better when they’re recharged after low levels of arousal have been sustained for some time periods.
14. Give a hug!
Your skin’s pressure receptors reduce stress hormones when they are stimulated. Touch also increases oxytocin, a hormone that is linked to feelings of security, love, and well-being. It can even alleviate the symptoms of colds!
Of course, the relationship is reciprocal. But giving a person who needs you gives them more energy to stay with their work or studies! And that makes your partner happier as well. And the energy you bring back to yourself helps your performance in any task. So consider giving out around others who need lots of love and care!
15. Be kind and do something nice for someone
We feel better about ourselves when we help others. It can be as simple as sending a quick thank you note, giving a compliment, or holding the door for a loved one. According to research, happy people tend to be more helpful to others.
You can volunteer at homeless shelters or senior citizens’ homes by reading to children or visiting them. Make an effort to do something nice every day. Do what you can to help others, even the little things. Keep a journal.
16. Turn off the TV
Spend less time watching TV ads trying to get you to buy things to make yourself happy. Commercials are usually more concerned with making money than bringing you joy. Watch less than 2 hours of TV a day, and don’t leave the TV on in the bedroom. You will thus be less likely to be exposed to false or unrealistic messages about happiness.
17. Don’t spend too much time on Facebook
Facebook usage is associated with a decline in mental health among young adults, according to studies. And compared to other forms of social networking, Facebook’s effects are more pronounced in people under 30.
I can’t say how much time you should spend each day on your Facebook – it relates to the person who is used with all this technology and what he/she uses it for! However, if you do use Facebook, try to spend at least half an hour per day on it, instead spend time with your family and friends
Being with your loved ones is one of the best ways to feel happy. Social support has been shown to have a positive effect on happiness, as well as mental health in general. This means that spending time with friends and family will help you be happier. So don’t forget about them!
Wrapping it up
The environment you live in can have a dramatic impact on your physical and mental health. It can affect your mood, your feelings, and even the health of your nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system.
Most of us have been in a place or situation that felt ‘depressing’. If you had been in that environment for a long time, you might have felt anxious or sad. We tried to cover every possible natural ways to increase your brain health and mood in this post. So, don’t just take a pill every time you feel bad. Take an action and try one of these tips instead watching the next TV show!