“If you keep going in the direction you’re headed, that’s where you’ll end up.”  That nugget from a Buddhist monk kind of ‘rhymes’ with one of Yogi Berra’s quips, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.”  Yogi’s gem hints that we all harbour some, perhaps unstated, destination that we’d like to reach, and I’d guess that for most of us we’d like to be headed toward health, happiness and togetherness.

But what if, on honest appraisal, you can see that there are distinct signs that you’re headed in some unwholesome if not dangerous directions?

Some change of course may be important.  Our most common efforts seem to entail medications as well as materialism; that we’ll “become” the person we want to be if we just buy THIS.  Therapy for many of us might seem too tough or too costly or too vague an undertaking.  Are there other ways?

Recent research shows that your lifestyle itself can be significantly beneficial for (or destructive of) your mental health.  Lifestyle choices in exercise and diet, and your involvement with your community, nature and technology can all have considerable effects on your mental and physical well-being.

Your mind is so intimately interconnected with both your body and your world that where one stops and another starts is unknowable.  Not surprisingly, then, recent research is showing us that beneficial changes in physical health seep in to our emotional well-being, that connecting with each other and with the world in particular ways will enrich your mind and your heart.

Exercise is therapeutic for many physical disorders and can reduce vulnerability to depression and neurodegenerative diseases, including age-related cognitive losses.  Exercise increases brain volume and cerebrovascular health.

Something else to chew on:  A diet that includes (1) multicoloured fruits and vegetables – a rainbow diet, (2) fish and/or supplements of omega-3 fish oils and which (3) reduces your caloric intake helps mind and body significantly.  The accumulating evidence pointing to adult neuroprotective benefits of omega-3s and possible decreases in attention-deficits, aggression and vulnerability to psychosis in adolescents recommends that everyone look into this supplement and check the few risks that have been reported. The “globesity” epidemic is associated with medical and cognitive problems, and over-eating weighs complexly on the minds of many. 

Time in nature and obtaining exposure to full spectrum light may be increasingly important as we spend more time with our eyes locked on to one electronic device or another.  ‘Mental health screen’ sounds like a new app, not a gut check.  Technopathologies, techno-stress, on-line compulsive disorders, screen sucking, data smog and hyperreality – “a simulated life-world that seems more real than reality” – creep our lives and give little that soothes.  In contrast, nature nourishes like nothing else and offers a stillness and silence that whispers wholesome truths, if you listen patiently and carefully.

Warm-hearted gratitude, kindness, reciprocity, acceptance, belonging, love and compassion are all resonant to our deep nature as social mammals.  Richer relationships reduce health problems, from common colds to neuropathologies, as well as psychological problems.  Our recreational activities, play and playfulness, may blend time in nature, good time with people and meaningful pursuits, all of which decrease stress.

And finally, the new embrace of the ancient practices of yoga (wisely-taught), tai chi and meditation may be one of the timeliest trends witnessed in participatory health care – the taking of responsibility for one’s own health. After all, no one else can richly regulate the course of your life for you.  Living as if your life really matters by exercising an attentiveness to one’s lifestyle can, day by day, help any of us chart healthier choices and live the benefits that follow.