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The way you feel physically has a big effect on your state of mind and emotional wellbeing. Similarly, if you are emotionally agitated, your physical health and energy levels are affected. Eating a nutritious diet and being active can help with depression, anxiety and stress.

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Healthy diet & eating

A balanced and nutritious diet including vegetables, fruit and whole grains is just as important to mental and emotional health as it is to your physical health:

  • A nutritious breakfast can give you plenty of emotional and physical energy for the day. This will also avoid the '4pm' mood slump which has you reaching for a quick sugary fix
  • Keep yourself fuelled throughout the day with smaller proportions of healthy nutritious foods, rather than several big meals
  • Avoid the highs and lows of sugary and high carbohydrate foods (biscuits, cakes and lollies) which can cause mood swings
  • Include protein in each meal to help maintain a more balanced mood throughout the day
Senior and middle aged woman

Physical activity & exercise

Regular exercise has been linked to improved mental and emotional health including:

  • reduced depressive symptoms
  • reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety
  • improved mood
  • improved self-efficacy

Just 10 minutes of exercise is all that is needed to put people in a more positive mood. According to psychologist Gillian Needleman, "Exercise can release endorphins which give you a feeling of happiness, keep cortisol (a stress hormone) in check and help your mind to relax. Rhythmic exercise like running, walking, rowing or cycling is most effective at relieving stress when you focus on your body's movement and how your breathing matches the movement." Activities like yoga, meditation and mindfulness are also very beneficial for mental and emotional health.

Depression & anxiety

Regular physical activity of light or moderate intensity can lead to a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms of up to 50% in women. Becoming more active can help to block negative thoughts, distract you from daily stresses and, if you exercise with other people, the social contact can be invaluable to your sense of wellbeing.

Research shows that walking groups have been associated with lowered postnatal depression scores and improved fitness in new mothers[1] which is likely to impact on stress, coping strategies, confidence and sleeping patterns.

In a recent large population-based study assessing psychological health and exercise, young women who did not regularly exercise, had higher levels of anxiety and/or depression compared to those that did.[2]

While it can be difficult if you are suffering from depression to feel motivated to be physically active, it can be beneficial – particularly in managing mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

Body image

Body image is how you think about, feel about, and picture your body. From childhood through adolescence and on to adulthood, body shape changes and sometimes so does body image.

We often hear of negative body image in teenagers yet poor body image can affect women of any age. Nearly half of all average weight women overestimate their size and shape. This is why it can be difficult to accept a compliment; we do not always see ourselves as others see us.

Managing a poor body image

The most important thing you can do when thinking about your body is to aim to be the healthiest you can be. Sometimes a poor body image stops women from wanting to exercise or the distress causes increased comfort eating. If you have a negative body image and it is stopping you from being the healthiest see our webpages on body image for some questions to help you assess your thoughts.

If you are worried about how you view your body and it is stopping you from healthy eating or exercising, it can be helpful to discuss your concerns with a psychologist who specialises in body image problems.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.

Last updated: 15 January 2020 | Last reviewed: 17 February 2014

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