1) Lower BMI/maintain BMI within the normal weight range
A person is considered to be obese when they have a BMI that is higher than 30. The CDC has a BMI calculator that can be shared with clients to help them understand their BMI and the risks associated with being overweight or obese. In a sample of 886 women, higher BMI was associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lower positive mental health. In addition, a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies, identified that a BMI of 25-29.99 (which is considered to be overweight) also predicted future symptoms of depression and anxiety. Working with clients on maintaining healthy weight can positively impact their mental health.
2) Be physically active
Frequent physical activity improves both physical health and mental health. The recommendations are to engage in moderate intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walk) for 150 minutes every week (i.e., 30 minutes, 5 days a week) AND muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all of the major muscle groups (i.e., legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). Or engage in vigorous intensity aerobic activity (running or jogging) for 75 minutes per week, and muscle strengthening 2 or more days. Here is a helpful handout that you can share with clients regarding physical activity.
3) Engage in meaningful mental or cultural activities
Mental activities include any activity that utilizes the mind, especially when doing something creative. These activities can by receptive (i.e., visiting a museum or going to a concert) and/or active (i.e., playing an instrument, writing, or painting). Mental activities are associated with better mental health and increased life satisfaction.
4) Reduce alcohol consumption/drink in moderation
The studies that investigate alcohol consumption and mental health are inconsistent. Researchers believe this is due to confounding variables and continue to study this important topic. The CDC recently launched a screening tool along with a public health campaign to drink less alcohol. This screening tool is an excellent resource that can be utilized with clients, and includes readiness to change, and goal setting as part of the tool.
5) Do not smoke
The research is clear on smoking – it negatively impacts both physical and mental health. Smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable mortality. It is strongly associated with mental health problems, and is a modifiable risk factor that can significantly impact ones health. Supporting clients to quit smoking is an important consideration in mental health. There are many good medicines on the market to help a person quit along with smoking cessation programs.
6) Eat a healthy well-balanced diet
Interestingly, a vegetarian diet has been associated with lower positive mental health and more mental health problems. Researchers are still trying to understand how a vegetarian diet may impact mental health. To date the best-known diet is a well-balanced healthy diet. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate continues to be one of the best resources to educate people on what a healthy well-balanced diet looks like.
7) Practice a regular social rhythm
Having a regular schedule is correlated with better mental health. According to Velten et al. (2018), this lifestyle factor showed the strongest association when compared to other lifestyle choices. Working with clients to create consistent routines may help them to increase their mental health.