“Lifestyle and Mental Health” is the title of the lead article in the October 2011 issue of American Psychologist. I almost skipped the article when I saw that the author, Roger Walsh, was arguing that unhealthy lifestyles are powerful contributors to psychological disorders and physical problems. Of course we all know this. But Walsh goes much further with a clearly written, well-documented review of research showing how our lives and our work with others are impacted by lifestyle factors that include nutrition, exercise, relationships, stress management skills, religious and spiritual involvement, and service to others. Of special interest is the research documenting the value of exposure to nature, the reduction of “media immersion” and the value of recreation. Walsh argues persuasively that “therapeutic lifestyle changes are sometimes as effective as either psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy and can offer significant therapeutic advantages…. In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health.” The article is worth reading carefully and you can do so by clicking here.
The benefits of healthy lifestyles are well known and documented but mental health professionals and other leaders rarely emphasize or recommend them. What are some reasons for this?
- Cognitive Dissonance. People-helpers whose own lifestyles are unhealthy are reluctant to mention lifestyle issues to others.
- Society issues. Most of us live in a culture where whole industries are geared toward encouraging unhealthy choices.
- Professional bias. “Even when changes in lifestyle would be more effective, doctors and their patients [among others] believe that for every ailment and discontent there is a drug” or a therapy that is better.
- Patients. Many resist healthy, research-supported, cost-free lifestyle changes that are readily available and have no side effects. Making changes is too much effort and perceived as less valuable than a medical intervention.
What is your attitude about this? In light of this research how much are lifestyle choices important in your personal health, treatments or recommendations to others? Where can you make changes?