New year … new health?

Every new year we set about making new year’s resolutions. Usually they are related to our physical health, going on a diet, joining a gym or drinking less. But what about our mental health?

Stop silly resolutions

A lot of people make strict and prohibitive new year’s plans to lose weight, frequently inventing strange, ineffective, nonrealistic, unhealthy diets and impossible-to-follow exercise plans, especially for someone who has not done any exercise for many years.

There is evidence that such resolutions do not lead to healthy weight loss; instead, restrictive dieting leads to long-term weight gain with bad, dangerous side-effects in people’s mental health.

Mental health is central to every part of our lives, how we interact with family and friends, how productive we are at work, and how we feel when we are alone.

If your goal is mental and physical good health, stop focusing on trying to be thin, and instead work on self-acceptance and being healthy.

Desperately trying to be skinny will not make you lose weight in a healthy way and will not make you happy.

Nutrition and mental health

The more we learn about the relationship between the gut and the brain, the more evidence we get about the role of nutrition not only in physical but also in mental health. People who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower levels of depression.

Move your body

Exercise is the obvious resolution that a part of you wants to forget about. Better not, as exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce depression, anxiety, improve sexual function and maintain cognitive function.

The good thing is, any sort of movement helps, so forget about hard-to-keep exercise plans and focus on finding enjoyable exercise that gets you out socialising, as it is easier to continue doing something that is enjoyable than forced exercise done with the main goal of improving appearance.

Social isolation

Not socialising and being isolated are good predictors of early death, and a stronger predictor than smoking. Multiple social connections help to cope with stress and reduce anxiety and depression. Being around people is necessary for good mental health and, consequently, for a better general health.

Screen time

Reducing TV and phone time will give people time to exercise, to socialise, to generally feel better as excessive screen time is linked to poor sleep quality and depression. Screen time should be part of a happy life, not a replacement of it.

New Scientist reports the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases was last updated in 1992, and the next version, due this year, will recognise gaming addiction as a genuine mental health disorder.

Why not make a serious effort to get outside, see the real world and the real people?

Live healthier … live longer

Trying to be as healthy as possible is not just about adding more years to your life but adding “healthy years”. People who follow healthy forms of behaviour show a 60% decline in dementia and a 70% reduction in type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke when compared with unhealthier peers. Studies also find healthy 50-year-olds live longer without disability than those who are overweight or smoke.

Yes, we all eventually must die of something, but we want to be happy, well, independent and pain-free leading up to that inevitable moment. Science suggests having a healthier lifestyle, even at age 50, is associated with a four-to-seven-year-longer life expectancy.

Rather than being related just to age, variations in health-related quality of life are also linked to sustained factors such as exercise, nutrition and social engagement.

Even at an older age, say 75, improving your lifestyle can benefit longevity, as avoiding an unhealthy weight, not smoking, maintaining a social network and engaging in leisure activities sees another five years added to a woman’s life span and six years added to a man’s.

Being healthy, physically and mentally, is about small, incremental, sustainable changes over many years, not about unrealistic, unsustainable new year’s (silly) decisions.

Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice

[email protected]
Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve