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Does a healthy lifestyle lead to positive mental health?

A recent study published in BMC Public Health examined the impact of certain lifestyle factors on positive mental health.

Mental health is an important part of public health and well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is a “state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

There are two ways to look at what is termed as positive mental health.  From a pleasure principle perspective, it has to do with positive mood, positive actions, and a high satisfaction with life events. The other perspective believes an individual must function optimally in day-to-day life in order to have positive mental health. A recent study published in BMC Public Health examined the impact of certain lifestyle factors on positive mental health in a population of German and Chinese students

It is commonly known that a healthy lifestyle is important to one’s well-being. WHO defines a healthy lifestyle as engaging in daily exercise, refraining from smoking limiting alcohol consumption, and eating healthy food. These are behaviours that should lead to positive physical and mental health. A number of research studies have indicated that WHO’s definition is correct.

The present study focuses on examining the impact of seven important lifestyle factors on positive mental health and mental health problems:

  1. Body mass index (BMI)
  2. Physical activity
  3. Mental or cultural activities
  4. Alcohol consumption
  5. Smoking
  6. Vegetarianism
  7. Social rhythm irregularity

The study included two large samples from China and Germany. Germany is a country with an individualistic culture and it has undergone changes in 1990 (specifically the reunification of East and West). China is a collectivistic country with rapid technical and economic development. The researchers chose the two contrasting cultural, historical, social and geographical conditions to make the study more relevant and rich.

The study included 2,991 German participants and 12,405 Chinese participants which included both female and male participants. The German sample had 58.9% female participants while the Chinese sample had 61.9% female participants.

At the beginning of the study, it was seen that females with higher BMI, who consumed alcohol frequently, were smokers had a vegetarian diet, and an irregular social rhythm of an older age bracket, with a higher frequency of physical activities, did not exhibit many mental Health Problems. However, those who were female, younger, smoking and had irregular social rhythms at the beginning of the study had a tendency to develop mental health problems in the future. It is important to note that the effect of lifestyle factors on mental health problems was limited.

This study supports the fact that lifestyle factors are important in predicting an individual ’s mental health. A healthy lifestyle may be more predictive of positive mental health than mental health problems. A regular social rhythm did indicate better future mental health in both Chinese and German students. The researchers also note that lower BMI, more frequent physical and mental activities, being non-smokers, and a non-vegetarian diet with better social rhythms did lead to better mental health. When considering mental health interventions for student populations or younger demographic, certain lifestyle choices can help in improving student’s mental health.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Velten, J., Bieda, A., Scholten, S., Wannemüller, A., &Margraf, J. (2018). Lifestyle choices and mental health: a longitudinal survey with German and Chinese students. BMC Public Health18(1), 632.



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