Our partners at Vitality Group helped us prepare this article. Vitality is a wellness program designed to improve your employees’ health using proven behavioural science.

Listen to your parents for better health? Three old sayings you should follow

October 21, 2022

For plan members, sponsors, and administrators

Your parents may have shared these common-sense adages, and for good reason. The experts with Vitality agree these three tips can help improve our physical and mental health.

That’s important because a study from the Angus Reid Institute shows Canadians are largely fatigued, frustrated, and anxious – and one-in-three (36%) Canadians say they are struggling with their mental health1.

So, take a lesson from your parents. They were right.

1.     Eat your vegetables

Vitality dietitian, Terry Harris, believes that what we eat is also important to our mental health. She says healthy diet patterns are associated with decreased risk of depression as well as symptoms of depression and the link between ‘food and mood’ is well documented.

“While major depression requires the appropriate clinical care, we know that improving diet quality can reduce depressive symptoms, confirming that healthy eating is a great line of defence to better manage mental health,” Harris says2.  

Harris says the nutrition advice goes beyond just vegetables. She says you can focus on increasing your daily intake of these foods:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • wholegrains
  • legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • nuts and seeds

“However, it’s not enough to just increase your intake of healthy foods. The benefits are felt when one also actively reduces their intake of unhealthy foods such as sugary drinks and foods high in added sugar (sweets chocolates, cake, biscuits), refined cereals, processed meat and highly processed or fried foods or fast food. Always consult with your doctor about what will work best for you,” Harris says.

2.     Go outside and play

Dr. Seranne Motilal, Senior Health Insurance Specialist at Vitality Group says that regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve mental well-being. This leads to improved self-esteem, stronger levels of resilience, being better able to manage depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There is a wealth of information on the positive link between exercise and improved mental health,” says Dr. Motilal. “Research continues to show that people who exercise regularly have better emotional well-being and lower rates of mental illness. Our own research shows that increasing steps just once a week, from 5,000 to 10,000, can reduce the risk of depression in some people3.”

For reference, Health Canada recommends getting 2.5 hours of activity every week4. Your brain will thank you for that activity.

3.     Get a good night’s sleep

Research done by Harvard Medical School in 2021 shows that poor sleep, or sleep deprivation, adversely affects our psychological state5. Moreover, this research suggests that those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Christine Brophy, VP of Behaviour Change at Vitality Group, says that sleep is a key component to holistic health.

“About half of us are kept awake by stress and 1 in 3 people experience insomnia. Seven to nine hours of sleep a night is recommended for optimal health but this isn’t always easy to achieve – with work being the number-one reason people cut back on sleep. Without question, this takes its toll on our mental abilities – our cognitive skills suffer, and processes linked to our decision-making become compromised,” she says6.

Eric Pfeiffer, Senior Workplace Well-being Consultant at Manulife, suggests building sleep hygiene routines that promote good quality sleep. He says that includes setting a sleep schedule—even on the weekends—and destressing before you hit the mattress. Check out Eric’s 7 tips for better sleep.

So, are you ready to follow your parents’ advice? The Manulife Vitality Group Benefits program can help.

Eating right, exercise, and a good night’s sleep are central to the wellness program and it’s a great way for people to improve their mental and physical health. Learn more about Vitality, and ask your Manulife representative how to get Vitality started at your workplace.

1 Pandemic fatigue: One-in-three Canadians report struggles with mental health; 23% say they’re ‘depressed’ Angus Reid Institute. 2022.

2 Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial)BMC Med 15, 23 (2017).

3 Physical activity and the prevention of depression. Vitality working paper. 2022.

4 Physical Activity Tips for Adults (18-64 years). Health Canada. 2018. 

5 Harvard Health Publishing. Sleep deprivation can affect your mental health. 2021. 

6 Vitality Healthy Futures Study, 2021.

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