Five-a-day guide to keeping mind and body happy and healthy

New evidence suggests key ways to support mental wellbeing, based on keeping brain and body active


The five-a-day for physical health which involves eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a useful framework which we can borrow to help us in thinking about how we can be proactive in taking care of our mental health.

The UK-based New Economics Foundation outlined five key ways to wellbeing based on up-to-date evidence about what promotes and supports our mental health and wellbeing. This is a five-a-day guide for minding our mental health.

1. Connect
Our relationships with other people are fundamental to our sense of wellbeing and happiness. Our close relationships with family and friends can yield love, support and a sense of meaning in our lives. Our wider social networks create in us a sense of belonging. So it makes sense that we work on strengthening our relationships and on making new connections.

For example, talking with others should be an everyday event. Conversations don’t have to be all about the difficulties. We need to tell one other about the enjoyable events too.

Knowing when to disconnect is vital too. Being fully present in the company we are in, without the distraction of phones, tablets and other devices, helps to deepen our sense of connection. The ever-growing number of ways in which we can connect with one another means that we are in danger of privileging the quantity of our connections over their quality.

What helps you to grow healthy connections with people in your life?

2. Be active
Experts have shown that exercising releases endorphins in our brains that make us feel good. Being active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym, competing in triathlons or wearing Lycra.

There are many ways to build activity into our daily lives and it’s about discovering something we enjoy doing and then building it into our routine.

Engaging in exercise can present us with opportunities to meet new people, to engender a sense of belonging, to give us a much-needed break from a stressful day and, above all, to make us feel good about ourselves. Regular exercise is also linked to better sleep which, in turn, is important for helping us to maintain good mental health.

Which ways of being active do you enjoy?

3. Take notice
We can all get caught up in the relentless busy-ness of modern life. We can become intoxicated with the chatter of the mind. How often are we mind-full as opposed to mindful? Taking a few moments to focus our awareness on what is going on within us and what is going on in nature around us can work wonders for our mental health.

It can free us up, even briefly, from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It can help us get more out of our day- to-day lives.

What do you notice about where you are and how you feel right now?

4. Keep learning
Learning exposes us to new ideas and helps us to stay curious and engaged. It may also give us a sense of accomplishment which, in turn, can boost our confidence.

Learning does not necessarily have to involve lectures, books or traditional teaching methods. It can often take place through doing.

For some, it might involve being shown how to Skype a loved one on the other side of the world, for others it is watching a documentary and for others still, it is experimenting with a new recipe. New learning can happen all the time if we are open to it.

What have you learnt or tried out for the first time recently?

5. Give
Doing good is good for us. Helping others makes us feel needed and valued; it can reinforce social connectedness and give us a sense of purpose – not to mention the benefits for those we help and the wider benefit to communities by contributing to a more compassionate society.

Giving ranges from simple, spontaneous acts such as paying a compliment or holding open a door to more structured and significant commitments such as volunteering.

What have you done recently to make someone happy or to help others?

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