Fitness Plan: Yoga for Mental Health

Yoga and health are connected at the hip — and the brain, and pretty much every part of your body.

Just 20 minutes of yoga can create both physical and mental health benefits, from improving flexibility and helping with chronic pain, to easing anxiety and even increasing brain function.

One scientific explanation for yoga’s mental health benefits is that practicing yoga seems to improve levels of GABA (or gamma-Aminobutyric acid if you want to keep it formal). GABA is the brain’s calming, “chill out” neurotransmitter — and yoga’s combination of physical poses and breathing techniques known as “pranayama” seems to be a good way to get your GABA on.

Almost everyone has seen yoga in some way, shape or form — and if what you saw scared you a bit, you’re not alone. All that bending and twisting — you may have thought, “there’s no way my body can move like that.” Here’s the good news: There are more than 100 different forms of yoga, and although some types are physically challenging, many others are gentler and not nearly as twisty.

The video below demonstrates five relatively easy, relaxing yoga poses. Trying them will only cost you a few minutes, and could improve mood and mental focus while reducing stress. Be sure to download our Move for Health PDF for a suggested routine to follow each week.

Cat-Cow Pose

Extended Puppy Pose

Bound Angle Pose

Reclining Bound Angle Pose

Child’s Pose

MINDful Nutrition

Our nutrition habits can help to protect our brain and keep it healthy as we age. In fact, recent research suggests that eating certain foods and eliminating others can improve brain function and even lower the risk and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of that research involved the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neuro-degenerative Delay approach (also known as the MIND diet for those of us who like things short and sweet). The MIND diet is very simple. First, eat more plant-based foods like berries and green leafy vegetables. Second, eat less animal-based foods, especially those high in saturated fat. To make it simpler still, here’s a list of some brain-boosting foods to eat more of and some brain-draining foods to avoid.

Your brain wants:

More of these:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Other vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
Less of these:

  • Red meats
  • Butter and stick margarine
  • Cheese
  • Pastries and sweets
  • Fried foods and fast foods

You’ll find plenty of ingredients from the “more” column in this month’s recipes and shopping list. Looking at the list, here’s another easy-to-remember tip to guide your food choices: Eating colorfully is good for your gray matter!

Recipes

Berry Blend Smoothie

 

Kale with Tahini Lemon Dressing

Slow Cooker Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Tofu Peanut Stew

Baked Fish with Rainbow Salsa