Physical health

Looking after your body does great things for your mind too

You’ve probably already heard people tell you to eat right or be more active. There’s a good reason for that. The way you look after your body has a big impact on the way you feel, think and behave.

Farmer walking his dog

Physical activity

Getting physically active has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to help with depression. Unfortunately, if you’re depressed or anxious, getting active may be hard to do.

It helps to have a plan and to do things you know you like. At first, you may not find them as enjoyable as before, but it’s important to keep going. Eventually, the good feelings will return. Think about getting whānau and friends involved who can support (tautoko) you if need help to get going.

Some of the benefits of being active include:

  • producing ‘feel-good’ hormones
  • getting your mind off your problems
  • getting out of the house
  • socialising
  • setting goals for yourself
  • creating a daily routine
  • getting a sense of achievement.

Physical activity does not have to mean joining a gym. It could be as simple as walking to the shops or mowing the lawns.  

If you haven’t been active for a while start slowly. When you’re feeling fitter, try to slowly increase the length of your activity and how hard you work at it. Go faster or further or add more challenges. 

If you’re unsure about what to do, talk to your doctor about getting a Green Prescription. They can also put you in touch with someone who’ll help you to find suitable options and support you to get active.


A good night’s sleep is a basic need when it comes to helping you deal with life. Unfortunately it's often hard to achieve. The best way to improve your sleep is to train your body (tinana) and mind (hinengaro) by setting a good routine.

Maybe you could try these strategies:

  • get to bed at the same time every night 
  • get to bed early enough to allow time to wind down
  • make your room as dark as possible  
  • turn off televisions, computers and gaming consoles in the bedroom 
  • avoid or cut down on smoking and drinking coffee, cola, energy drinks, and alcohol, especially close to bedtime 
  • if you’re worrying about something get up and write it down, then try to deal with it the next day
  • do some physical exercise every day – but leave time to wind down before bed
  • do things that can help you relax, like taking a warm shower, yoga, meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing techniques. 
  • don’t  lie in bed once you wake in the morning
  • after a late night, don’t sleeping in. Just go to bed a little earlier the next night.

Alcohol and drugs

Some people’s distress is linked to their alcohol or drug use. For that reason, getting help with one will often help the other. Alcohol is a depressant. Anxiety can be made worse by heavy or frequent drinking and can contribute to depression. 

Alcohol can interact with some of the medications that you may be taking for depression or anxiety. It can make some medications stronger and make their side-effects worse so it’s a good idea to reduce your drinking. You can ask your doctor or health professional for advice. 

If you think your drinking is having a bad effect on you, and your whānau and friends are concerned, you may want to change things.  Take a look at these suggestions on how to ease up your drinking:

It can be very hard to make changes when you’re mentally distressed. So ask your friends, whānau and/or your doctor to help you plan how to cut down or give up. Your doctor or health professional can recommend an alcohol and drug counselling service to help you. You could also try the Alcohol and Drug Helpline. You can call for free on 0800 787 797 or free txt 8681.

Eating and drinking

Healthy eating helps your body (tinana) to work well and helps you feel good. That's because, just like your body, your brain’s performance is affected by what you eat. Your brain needs a constant flow of energy to work properly, to concentrate and focus, and to steady your emotions. 

To boost your energy and feel good, try to eat:

  • plenty of vegetables and fruits
  • grain foods, mostly whole grain and those naturally high in fibre
  • some milk and milk products - mostly with low and reduced fat
  • some legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils
  • proteins like nuts, seeds or eggs
  • poultry, fish and other seafood, or red meat (with fat removed).

How you eat can affect how you feel just as much as what you eat. Sitting down and eating your meal in a quiet place can lift your mood. You can feel even better when sharing the meal with friends, family or whānau.

For ideas and tips on making healthier whānau meals visit My Family Food.

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