May 29, 2014 — Exercise benefits your health both mentally and physically. But being mentally healthy is much more complicated than having a good diet and getting plenty of physical activity. Dr. Jason Hunziker talks about why it’s important to have a healthy state of mind. He also gives some tips for having a healthy brain and a good outlook on life.

Interview

Interviewer: A happy lifestyles goes a long way. What are some of the steps you can take to promote and protect your mental health? That's coming up next on The Scope.

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Interviewer: We're talking with Dr. Jason Hunziker from the University of Utah. Dr. Hunziker, first of all what is mental health and why should I even be paying attention to it?

Dr. Hunziker: Mental health and mental well being is something that I think we all take for granted and think it's just going to happen, but it really doesn't. I think mental health and mental well being is how you feel about yourself every day and how you look at the world and how you feel the world looks at you. So it's always important to address that every day, to do certain things to kind of help yourself continue to enjoy the life that you have and attain those goals that you've set for yourself.

Interviewer: What things can affect my mood and my emotion, because I'm just going to wake up and think it's going to be a good day and I'm going to be happy and things don't go well and you get upset? Ultimately what affects your mood?

Dr. Hunziker: Well pretty much everything affects your mood. Unfortunately in our environment and in our society today we have created things that we had hoped would help our lives be easier and better and move along quicker, but at the same time what we're finding out is that it causes a lot of disconnect between people. We don't talk as much as we used to talk because we don't have to. Instead of calling on the phone anymore to talk with somebody we just send them a text message, or instead of writing a nice letter to somebody we just send them a quick email. And those things, that disconnection from people is one way that we see the destruction of people's well being and good outlook.

Interviewer: So connectivity with the people around you is definitely one of them. How about my diet; does that affect anything?

Dr. Hunziker: Clearly your diet is really important.

Interviewer: Not just my physical state, but also my mental state as well.

Dr. Hunziker: Definitely. If you're eating unhealthy, which we tend to do, again I'm going to go back to the society and how we're moving so quickly. We don't take the time to eat breakfast, because, oh we'll just swing by McDonalds...

Interviewer: Or just grab a banana.

Dr. Hunziker: ...and get a McMuffin or something. And then the next meal is fast food as well, and pretty soon what we've done is we've added all these empty calories that aren't available for your body to use. And then we end up hurting ourselves in the long run.

Interviewer: Is it as easy just to say, eat a good diet, or are there certain foods that I should be looking for and say, okay, this is going to help my brain be happy.

Dr. Hunziker: I think that the way that they have set up the calories and the nutrition that they think is good for us in this country I think is a fairly good way to look at that. If we're eating carbohydrates and fats and protein with every meal, I think we're going to be okay.

Interviewer: A good balance.

Dr. Hunziker: But we need to have a good balance, and that's our problem, because I would rather have three donuts in the morning than a good sensible breakfast.

Interviewer: But you can't do that though.

Dr. Hunziker: No we can't; otherwise that changes a whole bunch of things in your life. Along with the good diet I think though is an exercise program as well. And what I mean by that is I don't think you need to be at the gym three or four times a week. But I think what you need to do is make sure you're getting physical activity of some type every day.
Most of our jobs anymore seem to be sitting down. We don't spend a lot of time moving around from one place to the next because we have everything we need right in front of us. So parking a long way away from the door to your office and walking in is helpful. Trying to take the stairs when you can is helpful. Some people wear pedometers on their belt and they shoot for 10,000 steps a day to make sure that they're getting some type of exercise.

Interviewer: People always say it's good to talk about your feelings. How good is it to talk about my feelings?

Dr. Hunziker: I think it's really good to talk about your feelings.

Interviewer: But who do you talk about them with?

Dr. Hunziker: Well I think that's up to you. I think you want to find somebody who you trust and who you feel like will listen to your feelings and then help you deal with those issues. If that can be your significant other that's even better, because opening up communication between partners is another way to enhance your well being. But if that's not going to be helpful, there are therapists out there that are there for you to help you discuss those things that you need help with so that you can keep your mental health elevated. You don't have to wait to be severely depressed or severely anxious or to have marital problems or financial problems to go see a therapist.

Interviewer: So in talking to you I just realized I have a terrible mental health wellbeing. I don't eat a good diet, and I don't communicate with people very well. I don't keep in touch. I don't do all these things that you should be doing to keep a well balanced mental health. What are some tips to improve this?

Dr. Hunziker: Focus on the one thing that you think might be impairing you the most, and then make a change in that first. Start by eating breakfast every morning and maybe set something out the night before so it's already to go. Maybe take a healthy meal with you to work so that you don't end up just running and grabbing something.

Interviewer: Keep something on your stomach.

Dr. Hunziker: Exactly, or just not eating at all. And then make that change first and then move on to your next thing that you want to do to help you feel better.

Interviewer: What are the three things that you think are most essential to a healthy mental well being?

Dr. Hunziker: That's a great question. I don't know if there are just three things, but I would say that the things we have talked about; I think if you want to stay healthy we have to take care of your physical body, your mind, and make sure that everything is working together. A healthy diet is going to go a long way to improve your mental health as well as your physical health. And that's going to help you get where you need to be. Exercise always is a way to increase the way you feel about yourself, and those around you, and that helps you improve. Getting excellent sleep is very important, because if you don't have good sleep you are not going to function.

Interviewer: What is a good amount of sleep, because I feel like it's different for everybody. I'm getting like two hours of sleep a night, and that's not good I'm assuming.

Dr. Hunziker: No, we have medications for that if you need something. Yes, two hours of sleep is not healthy. There are going to be problems if you continue to function on two hours of sleep. I think you're right; there are some variations in what people do need for sleep, but for the most part it is recommended that a good healthy eight hours of sleep a night is a way to keep yourself moving forward and being healthy. You should try to do things on a schedule so that you go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time and have a nice routine that you go through so that you can then promote a more healthy well being.

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