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Pillars of Mental Health – Sleep First, Raw Veggies Second, Cycling Third

By Jiri Kaloc

A new study set out to find out what the most important aspects of lifestyle for good mental health and well-being are. We all know that the usual suspects such as sleep, diet, and exercise are important. But which one of them most strongly predicts good outcomes and how are they related? Let’s take a closer look at the study’s findings and the author commentary.

The most important aspect is sleep

A study from University of Otago, published in Frontiers in Psychology, surveyed over 1100 young adults about their sleep, physical activity, diet, and mental health. The results clearly showed that sleep was most closely correlated with mental health and well-being. The second most important aspect was eating raw fruits and vegetables, and physical exercise was third.

Sleeping cat
If you want to measure your sleep, you can try various sleep tracking apps or wearables that measure your sleep quality through your night time motion.

Sleep better, not just longer

This new study showed that sleep quality is significantly more important than sleep length when it comes to mental health and well-being.

“This is surprising because sleep recommendations predominantly focus on quantity rather than quality. While we did see that both too little sleep — less than 8 hours — and too much sleep — more than 12 hours — were associated with higher depressive symptoms and lower well-being, sleep quality significantly outranked sleep quantity in predicting mental health and well-being. This suggests that sleep quality should be promoted alongside sleep quantity as tools for improving mental health and well-being within young adults,” said lead author Shay-Ruby Wickham.

The study also showed that depressive symptoms were lowest for those who slept 9.7 hours per night, and feelings of well-being were highest for those who slept 8 hours per night. So, aim for at least 8 hours and maybe even more if you have an increased risk of developing depression. If you are looking for a few tips on how to improve sleep quality, check out our series on sleep.

Eat 4.8 servings of raw fruit and veg a day

You will do best if you eat a variety of both fruits and vegetables. © Profimedia

The reported well-being was highest among participants who ate 4.8 servings of raw fruits and vegetables per day. This might sound like a lot, but remember that if you include veggies with each of your meals and have a piece of fruit as a snack, you’ll be very close to that number. It’s good to add that those participants who ate less than 2 servings, and also more than 8 servings, reported lower feelings of well-being. So, as long as you avoid both extremes, you will do just fine.

Keep cycling

Participants exercised approximately 3 times per week on average. If you’re a cycling enthusiast, it won’t be a problem to stay above average in this regard. It is nice to hear that cycling can be one of three main pillars of mental health and well-being.

“Sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet can be thought of as three pillars of health, which could contribute to promoting optimal well-being among young adults, a population where the prevalence of mental disorders is high and well-being is suboptimal,” Wickham summarizes.