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Eating and exercise

You’ve explored how the body benefits from regular routines, and this is the same for eating and exercise. But both of these areas of life also benefit from variety.

Eating well

It’s important to continue following guidance around healthy eating (visit the NHS website for further information), ensuring that we get a good mixed diet, which includes the key food groups.

When we’re feeling low, we sometimes crave sugary foods which give us quick energy boosts, but these often result in crashes in energy which may affect our mood in a negative way. If this sounds familiar, try getting your energy boost from carbohydrates instead, especially complex carbohydrates, which will help to keep your blood sugar level stable between meals. Complex carbohydrates include wholegrain breads and flours, starchy vegetables (such as parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potatoes), lentils and beans.

Planning and preparing meals can be something nice for the family to do together, and provide a fun activity away from school work.

Take a look at the following studies that explore the connection between food and mood here:

One project (1) examined the diets of over seven thousand Australian children aged between ten to fourteen years old. After accounting for differences in family income, activity levels, age, gender and many other factors, the researchers found a strong association between the quality of the diet young people ate, and their mood. Young people with the least-healthy diet reported the highest symptoms of depression, and those with the best diets reported the fewest symptoms of depression.
A similar study (2) found that in a group of three thousand adolescents from London, children with the least healthy diets were more than twice as likely to have symptoms of depression

Staying active

Exercise is an important part of daily life, and many of us are still able to run, walk or cycle outside. But this may not be the case for everyone, or may be especially challenging if you’re no longer able to train with others in your chosen sport or hobby. Equally you may prefer not to exercise everyday. If this is the case, look for other activities you can try at home; there are lots of free online exercise classes, that are both cardio as well as strength or relaxation based. All of these activities will help you keep fit, healthy, and will improve your mood. Check out the following websites:

  • Joe Wicks is offering a live 30 minute session on his YouTube channel at 9am every weekday morning or you can choose to do it at a time that suits you.

  • Londonsport have gathered a useful list of suggestions for under 25’s.

  • If you prefer to focus on strengthening your muscles, improving your balance and finding ways to calm the mind, you might find yoga or Pilates classes helpful. There are a number of online classes being offered free of charge which you can do alone or with another member of your household.

  • If you’re interested in the evidence that supports how exercise can help our mood, read this research study; ‘Exercise for depression’ by Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, Lawlor DA, Rimer J, Waugh FR, McMurdo M and Mead GE.

Do you have any suggestions for creative ways to exercise inside or outside the home? Share your ideas in the discussion area below.


References

1) Jacka, F. N., Kremer, P. J., Leslie, E. R., Berk, M., Patton, G. C., Toumbourou, J. W., & Williams, J. W. (2010). Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. Australian & New Zealand journal of psychiatry, 44(5), 435-442. Please note this journal article is behind a paywall.

2) Jacka, F. N., Rothon, C., Taylor, S., Berk, M., & Stansfeld, S. A. (2013). Diet quality and mental health problems in adolescents from East London: a prospective study. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 48(8), 1297-1306. Please note this journal article is behind a paywall.

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression

University of Reading