A new study has suggested that lifestyle changes—such as getting more exercise, time in nature, or helping others—can be as effective as drugs or counselling to treat an array of mental illnesses.
Roger Walsh of the University of California, Irvine’s College of Medicine said that multiple mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, could be treated with certain lifestyle changes as successfully as diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
Walsh reviewed research on the effects of what he calls ‘therapeutic lifestyle changes,’ or TLCs, including exercise, nutrition and diet, relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management, religious or spiritual involvement, spending time in nature, and service to others.
Walsh reviewed research on TLCs’ effectiveness and advantages, as well as the psychological costs of spending too much time in front of the TV or computer screen, not getting outdoors enough, and becoming socially isolated.
He stated that TLC has many unrecognized benefits:
Exercise not only helps people feel better by reducing anxiety and depression. It can help children do better in school, improve cognitive performance in adults, reduce age-related memory loss in the elderly, and increase new neuron formation in the brain.
Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and fish may help school performance in children, maintain cognitive functions in adults, as well as reduce symptoms in affective and schizophrenic disorders.
Spending time in nature can promote cognitive functions and overall well-being.
Good relationships can reduce health risks ranging from the common cold to strokes as well as multiple mental illnesses, and can enhance psychological well-being dramatically.
Recreation and fun can reduce defensiveness and foster social skills.
Relaxation and stress management can treat a variety of anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders.
Meditation has many benefits. It can improve empathy, sensitivity and emotional stability, reduce stress and burnout, and enhance cognitive function and even brain size.
Religious and spiritual involvement that focuses on love and forgiveness can reduce anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and foster well-being.