Are Lifestyle Changes As Effective For Mental Health As Other Treatments?
Is it time to trade an hour on the couch for a walk in the park and a seafood dinner? A new study suggests simple, therapeutic lifestyle changes (also known as TLCs, not to be confused with "Tender Loving Care" or the popular 90s hip-hop girl group) can be as effective as drugs and therapy when it comes to treating mental illness and and sustaining mental wellness.
The article (see the original text here: Lifestyle and Mental Health  ) reviewed a wide range of research on the effects and effectiveness of TLCs and concluded that exercise, nutrition, stress management, spending time in nature, and cultivating close personal relationships are as, if not more, effective than traditional and drug therapy in preventing and treating mental illness. The article also examines the difficulty in implementing TLCs, contending that modern society constantly distracts from a moderate, healthy lifestyle.
Say No To Sad Faces — Analysis
It is important to note that the article does not address a single study or even a series of studies, but instead draws general conclusions from the results of more than 65 other studies and articles regarding everything from social networks, to fish, to vegetables. This is helpful as a general overview of the state of the field of TLCs, but may not provide enough specific information on methods.
Whereas most studies agree regular physical exercise can be highly beneficial in treating depression , this article goes further by blending “common knowledge” with some interesting details thrown in for good measure. For instance, exercise may not only reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, but research shows that a combination of strength training with more than 30 minutes of aerobics increases brain volume and function measures  .
The article authors champion the following important categories of TLCs, citing various studies which have shown each of these to be effective, non-pharmaceutical methods of fighting mental unwellness: spending time in nature (Chasing Waterfalls?), developing close and intimate relationships with friends (No Scrubs?), meditation (That's all the TLC songs I know.), religious and spiritual involvement, and just having a fun time.
It's clear the potential benefits of therapeutic changes can lead to fewer negative side effects or complications than with some alternative treatments. These self-sustainable positive behaviors may also be more likely to result in higher self-esteem and improved physical health, which never hurts. The article argues that the biggest challenge will be implementing TLCs as a therapeutic treatment option on a large scale, though perhaps the real challenge is, and always has been, sticking to any therapeutic life change long enough for it to start making a substantial difference.
Updated October 2011
[expert id="testexpert" align="left"] John J. Ratey, MD: ”I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment.”
Turns out TLCs (therapeutic lifestyle changes, not to be confused with the 90s hip-hop girl group) may basically be as effective for mental health as drugs and therapy.
- Lifestyle and Mental Health. Walsh, R. The American Psychologist 2011 Jan 17. [Epub ahead of print].⤴
- Physical activity and mental health: current concepts. Paluska, SA., Schwenk, TL. Sports Medicine 2000 Mar;29(3):167-80.⤴
- Effects of aerobic fitness training on human cortical function: a proposal. Kramer, AF., Colcombe, S., Erickson, K., et al. Journal of Molecular Neuroscience 2002 Aug-Oct;19(1-2):227-31.⤴
- Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development: Can the functional capacity of older adults be preserved and enhanced?. Hertzog, C., Kramer, AF., Wilson, RS., et al. Washington, D. C.: Association for Psychological Science (2009). Psychological Science in the Public Interest (Vol. 9, Whole No. 1).⤴