Here are a few lifestyle practices that Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that can help people achieve and maintain happy lives.
Exercise: Human bodies are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of much of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today. Many studies show that depressed patients who stick to a regimen of aerobic exercise improve as much as those treated with medication. Exercise also appears to prevent depression and improve mood in healthy people. Many exercise forms — aerobic, yoga, weights, walking and more — have been shown to benefit mood.
Typical therapeutic exercise programs last for eight to 14 weeks. You should have 3 to 4 sessions per week, of at least 20 minutes each. For treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, activities of moderate intensity, like brisk walking, are more successful than very vigorous activity.
Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Normally, inflammation occurs in response to injury and attack by germs. It is marked by local heat, redness, swelling and pain, and is the body’s way of getting more nourishment and more immune activity to the affected area. But inflammation also has destructive potential. We see this when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in such autoimmune diseases as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Excessive inflammation also plays a causative role in heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as other age-related disorders, including cancer. More recent research indicates that inappropriate inflammation may also underlie depression — so controlling it is key to both physical and mental health.
Do Breathing Exercises: Conscious breath control a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind. One of my favorite breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 (or Relaxing) Breath. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward. Then:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
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