Is creating a wellness-centered practice a reality or is it just a pie-in-the-sky fantasy? I believe it’s not only possible, but it’s also a necessity if we hope to help our patients achieve the best possible outcomes. I routinely incorporate exercise, nutrition, social connectedness and meditation as parts of my wellness practice.
Granted, that’s a lot to cover with each and every patient, but we must do our best to find a way because the data is so convincing. We must use a combination of wellness interventions in hopes of achieving the best for our patients.
I’d like to share five of the wellness interventions I use in my practice. I think you’ll be impressed by the data supporting them and I’m hopeful this will encourage you to create your own wellness-centered practice.
We know exercise improves mood but how many of us exercise on a regular basis? Often, we make excuses to avoid the gym or going for a walk. But scientific evidence proves the mental benefits of exercising.
A study found that the more fitness people had, the greater their hippocampal volume.1 Why does that matter? The hippocampus is important in mood regulation and memory. Encouraging patients struggling with mood difficulties to exercise may alleviate their symptoms. This is just one study among many supporting the efficacy of exercise. Don’t ignore the power of exercise.
All you have to do is visit a bookstore to see the interest that exists in eating well. While the debate rages over what diet is best, I believe that eating natural food versus processed food promotes overall wellness — both physically and mentally.
A higher intake of folate (found in many types of beans, as well as asparagus, spinach and broccoli) was found to lower the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.2 However, eating a diet high in carbohydrates has been linked to a greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.3 Food is a powerful player in overall wellness. We must educate our patients about the role of food in the pursuit of wellness.
3. Social Connections
Are friends really that important? Studies reveal that spending less time alone and engaging in more substantive conversations are related to higher well-being.4 Don’t we often see our patients isolating and withdrawing from their friends and family when they aren’t doing well? We must encourage our patients to reach out to others rather than pulling away. There really is power in numbers.
While many people say they don’t have time to meditate, data shows the benefits of the activity. An 8-week mindfulness meditation intervention really does change the brain. One study found that intervention lead to changes in both the amygdala and the hippocampus, both structures that play important roles in mood regulation.5,6 Mindfulness meditation is an effective intervention that we must share with our patients. And it’s also great for practicing clinicians.
What does the data tells us about cognition as it relates to wellness interventions?
- People who exercise three or more times a week are more likely to be dementia-free than those who exercise less7
- High caloric intake doubles the risk of cognitive decline in seniors8
- Social connection delays memory loss among the elderly9
- Meditation plays an important role in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia10
There’s a lot our patients can do to protect their cognitive abilities — exercise, eat less, connect with others, and meditate. Certainly there are other wellness interventions that you may want to include in your clinical toolkit. These happen to be the ones I encourage my patients to use.
Finally, I want to address the use of medication as therapy. Often, treating psychiatric disorders with medications is an important first step in moving a patient towards recovery and remission of their symptoms. Medication treatment is often just not enough by itself. Pursuit of wellness complements pharmacologic treatment — it does not contradict it.
Saundra Jain, PsyD, LPC, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Austin, Texas, and executive director of the Mental Aerobics Project, which is focused on wellness and the impact of positive psychology on client outcomes.
- Erickson KL, et al. Hippocampus 2009; 19(10):1030-1039.
- Jacka FN, et al. J Affect Disord 2012; 141(1):79-85.
- Roberts RO, et al. J Alzheimers Dis 2012; 32(2):329-339.
- Mehl MR, et al. Psychol Sci. 2010; 21(4):539-541.
- Hölzel BK, et al. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2010; 5(1):11-17.
- Hölzel BK, et al. Psychiatry Res 2011; 191(1):36-43.
- Larson EB, et al. Ann Intern Med 2006; 144(2):73-81.
- Geda YE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis 2013; 34(2):501-507.
- Ertel KA, et al. Am J Public Health 2008; 98(7):1215-1220.
- Wells RE, et al. Neurosci Lett 2013; 556:15-19.