Sarah Wilson: How diet and exercise can improve mental health

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Having already convinced the world to quit sugar, Sarah Wilson has probably done more for our collective health than most others could dream of. But she’s not done yet.

With our physical health now covered, the best-selling author and blogger is turning her attention to our mental health.

“Wellness doesn’t have to be complicated or even expensive. The best things can be free,” she says.

For Wilson, improving your mental health and reducing anxiety falls into two familiar categories; diet and exercise.

Sarah Wilson believes diet and exercise can improve your mental health. Picture: Tim Hunter
media_cameraSarah Wilson believes diet and exercise can improve your mental health. Picture: Tim Hunter

But the secret, she says, is not to overcomplicate either of them.

“I’ve been able to improve my mental health just through eating real food. I eat like my grandmother used to eat — it’s a simple as that,” Wilson says.

“It just makes sense, and you save lots of money, too.”

That’s not to say there aren’t cheat moments, of course. Wilson might have penned the book I Quit Sugar, but these days it’s more about moderation than complete abstinence.

“I do eat a little bit of dark chocolate every day,” Wilson says.

“It’s 90 per cent dark chocolate, which I find sweet because your tastebuds change when you quit sugar. And I drink a glass of red wine everyday, and I eat some fruit.

“So it’s moderation, and it’s not ridiculously over the top, and it’s easy.”

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Easy is the mantra to Wilson’s entire wellness philosophy, which extends to exercise. And so when it comes to her near-daily hikes, it’s a simple as walking out of the house.

“I keep it so simple. I’ve got a pair of green shorts which I’ve had for 11 years, I slip my Opal card in my bra, and I just go,” she says.

Sarah Wilson penned the book I Quit Sugar, encouraging people to cut the sweet stuff.
media_cameraSarah Wilson penned the book I Quit Sugar, encouraging people to cut the sweet stuff.

“A lot of people stall because they’re running around trying to find their Fitbit and their water bottle when they should just be getting out the door.

“I game the system by keeping it as simple as possible. I’ll do train-to-train walks or pub-to-pub walks. The thing is to just make exercise a part of what you do.”

FAST FACTS ON …

HOW TO DE-STRESS THROUGH EXERCISE

1. Walk it off

“There are so many studies that show the link between walking in nature and being able to dampen the anxious response in the brain,” Wilson says.

Sarah Wilson says people can de-stress through exercise.
media_cameraSarah Wilson says people can de-stress through exercise.

“The part of the brain that controls the left-right motion of walking is the same part that controls our flight or fight response. And it can only take 20 minutes to get a positive effect, and the impact on anxiety can be huge.”

2. Take a spin

“Most of our lives we’re driving around madly in cars, and it’s too fast to process how were feeling, or process our anxiety,” Wilson says.

“I’m almost 46 now, and I have owned a car for about six years of my adult life. I ride a bike everywhere.”

3. Hike, don’t shop

“My entire Instagram was started as a way to encourage people to hike on the weekend,” Wilson says.

“If people are hiking then they’re not stuck at a shopping mall. Shopping makes people miserable, while hiking makes you feel alive. I even have the hashtag #hikedon’tshop.”

ASK ADAM

Question: Hi Adam. Every time I turn on the television these days there’s something on there about a plant-based diet — is it worth a crack?

Health Hacker Adam MacDougall gives advice on health and wellbeing issues. Picture: Jonathan Ng
media_cameraHealth Hacker Adam MacDougall gives advice on health and wellbeing issues. Picture: Jonathan Ng

Answer: First, let me just say I’m on a plant-based. But what does this mean? Well, it simply means that at least 51% of the food on my plate is veggies with the other half being protein and fat from animal sources like grass-fed meat and seafood.

I don’t think there isn’t a doctor on the planet who will say we’re eating too many vegetables. In fact research shows that 92 per cent of adults aren’t meeting their five servings of vegetables a day. So anything that gets us eating more veggies is a good thing in my opinion.

* Send your questions to adam@themanshake.com.au

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Adam MacDougall is the creator of The Man Shake. A new, healthy, weight loss shake that is low in sugar, full of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals that you can have on the run and leaves you feeling full.

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