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Improving Patients' Mental Health

By Laura Slade on Mar 19, 2019 10:55:29 AM

Updated March 6, 2020

A new study revealed that the condition of your blood vessels may determine a good portion of your brain’s health. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that a number of factors—smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes—may have a negative effect on not only your vascular health, but your brain as well.

As a quick refresher and handy resource, we've compiled a list of 7 suggestions to offer patients to help them improve on their mental health without medication. In order for any of these suggestions to take hold, it's also beneficial to discuss positive habit building best practices. Without a plan in place to build healthy habits, your patients will likely not stick with any of these suggestions. 

Cardiovascular Exercise

There’s no denying that having a healthy exercise routine is key for overall health. But for many adults with office jobs, the idea of working out after work seems like an impossible one. As a healthcare provider you should stand firm: adults should aim for 150 minutes or more of aerobic exercise each week. But worry not if you’ve been slacking on your steps recently; studies have shown that sedentary older adults who made a new habit of walking regularly for one year showed significant improvements in memory performance that also related to growth of memory areas of the brain.

Strength Training

Studies have suggested that participating in strength training along with mental stimulation has been able to slow and even halt degeneration, over a long period, in brain areas particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. As you most likely already know, combined with aerobic workouts, strength training has been shown time and time again to improve heart health, which is directly linked to keeping your brain up to snuff as well. Source.

Nutritional, Not Diet Changes

Patients need to understand that a change in diet is NOT a diet. Diets are thought of as a temporary hardship in order to meet a goal before returning to normal eating. By prescribing a complete change of nutrition the patient may be better able to see the reality of the situation. Referral to a nutritionist is preferred but in light of that, suggest cutting back on perennial favorites like take out, deli meat, and cheese. These can be hard changes, but those comfort foods are also some of the highest sources of sodium, which can drive up blood pressure. Instead recommend they snack on brain-boosting foods like blueberries, nuts, and fatty fish. Not easy, but this is where pairing these suggestions with habit forming techniques come in especially handy. Additionally, incorporating non-starch vegetables and whole-grains is a good way to maintain a healthy weight and keep blood sugar stable—all contributing factors to brain health.

Cognitive Awareness

Mental health’s relationship to overall health has come under close scrutiny in recent years. Things like anxiety and stress can wreak havoc on your mind, which in turn can negatively affect more physical aspects of your life. Taking steps to find the right stress-relief —a long walk, a hot bath, a cup of tea, a talk with a friend—can help keep your mental health stable as well.

Sleep Efficiency

Poor or inadequate sleep is often associated with vascular risk factors—including high blood pressure and weight gain. Getting the adequate amount of sleep each night helps memory development; a lack of quality sleep puts strain on the brain and can drastically impact physical and mental health. Recommend establishing a settled sleep and wake-up time to get the best quality of sleep possible, again positive habit forming.

Cognitive Training

Keeping up your patients' cognitive function levels up is a key component to brain health. Attending a book clubs, taking a cooking classes, doing puzzles like the daily crossword or Sudoku, are all activities that keep your neurons active and healthy. Establishing these habits at a young age can help stave off memory loss and depression so often associated with aging.

Collaborative Care

All of these recommendations are best served with a collaborative care model in place. By working in tandem medical and behavioral healthcare providers are better able to provide whole patient care. We've written a guide on understanding collaborative care. If you're in a growth phase with your practice and are considering how you can further improve, please click the link below to access this insightful information. 

Collaborative Care: The Marriage of Physical and Mental Healthcare

Laura Slade

Written by Laura Slade