Scientists find ‘three pillars’ of good mental health

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In a new study, researchers found that getting good quality sleep, exercising, and eating more raw fruits and vegetables predicts better mental health and well-being in adults.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Otago.

In the study, the team surveyed more than 1100 adults from New Zealand and the United States about their sleep, physical activity, diet, and mental health.

They found sleep quality, rather than sleep quantity, was the strongest predictor of mental health and well-being.

This is surprising because sleep recommendations predominantly focus on quantity rather than quality.

While they did see that both too little sleep—less than 8 hours—and too much sleep—more than 12 hours—were associated with higher depressive symptoms and lower well-being, sleep quality significantly outranked sleep quantity in predicting mental health and well-being.

This suggests that sleep quality should be promoted alongside sleep quantity as tools for improving mental health and well-being within adults.

Along with quality sleep, exercising, and eating more raw fruits and vegetables—in that order—were three modifiable behaviors that correlated with better mental health and well-being in adults.

The team also found depressive symptoms were lowest for adults who slept 9.7 hours per night, and feelings of well-being were highest for those who slept 8 hours per night.

Well-being was highest for adults who ate 4.8 servings of raw fruit and vegetables per day; those who ate less than two servings, and also more than eight servings, reported lower feelings of well-being.

The team says sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet can be thought of as three pillars of health, which could contribute to promoting optimal well-being.

One author of the study is Associate Professor Tamlin Conner.

The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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