Fitness and nutrition are staples for World Mental Health Day

Local fitness and nutrition specialists say exercise and a good diet can aid in deeper sleep and a better mindset.

PORTLAND, Maine — Tuesday is World Mental Health Day and you might be asking yourself what you can do to improve yours.

Local fitness and nutrition professionals say motivation and a positive attitude can be achieved by staying active, eating a balanced diet, and catching some quality Zs.

Many people felt the harsh isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic while being separated from loved ones and working from home causing an uptick in mental health struggles across the globe.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression affects 16 million Americans each year, and one in six adults will experience depression at some point in their life.

Sometimes what we need during difficult times is an endorphin rush and a sense of belonging.

Owner of CycleBar Portland—housing over 30 bikes for robust cycling workouts—said fitness was her lifeline following the death of her grandmother eight years ago. Ferguson was living in Florida at the time and stumbled upon a CycleBar and gave it a whirl. 

“I was struggling with the grief of losing and living without someone who I was deeply bonded with. To be honest, I never enjoyed working out, so I never did. But after my first ride—my life was changed,” Ferguson said. “It was the place where I could escape reality, turn my brain off, and just feel alive. So, for me, CycleBar has always been about mental strength, inspiration, and confidence reward. And the physical shape was just a bonus.”

When Ferguson moved back to Maine a few years ago, she opened her own CycleBar. She said her studio promotes a sense of community and belonging. 

“No matter how hard the climb or the challenge, we face it and overcome it, together. We reach new heights and build new strength both physically and mentally.”

In addition to multiple health benefits, the Mayo Clinic said recent studies show mood improvement and reduced anxiety are linked to exercise, according to their website. 

Grayson Beressi, a personal trainer at Snap Fitness, said exercise is “crucial” for quality mental health. 

“I think first and foremost it’s a great way to alleviate stress,” he said.

Historically, humans weren’t built to be sedentary creatures and require movement of all kinds, Beressi stated. He said as long as you are spending 30 minutes, four to five times a week, getting your heart rate up, you are setting yourself up for success. Beressi said it doesn’t have to be weight lifting per se, but to choose an activity that gets your heart pumping, like gardening, or a walk. 

Personal Trainer Kaylee Garnett, who works at Planet Fitness in Bangor said some people who deviated from their workout routines during the pandemic might feel discouraged and avoid returning to the gym. Garnett encouraged them to “take the first step.”

“It’s going to be a little difficult at first, but get a friend or trainer, any kind of support who will hold you accountable and you’ll see yourself improve,” Garnett said.


Once you have a solid exercise routine, healthy eating often follows, but don’t be sucked in by trendy diets and filtered photos on social media. 

Registered dietitian and owner of a nutrition therapy practice in Portland, Caroline Bowman said she focuses on clients having a healthy relationship with food and avoids elimination diets.

Bowman has a deep focus on mental health in her practice, specializing in disordered eating and eating disorder recovery.

“I have found that the foundation for a truly healthy diet is healing your relationship with food so that you can learn to trust your body and enjoy food,” Bowman said.

“Food plays such a central role in our lives, so when we carry emotional stress from years of dieting, negative self-talk about our own bodies, and anxiety over what to eat due to all the fad diets and misinformation online — it’s no wonder that food can feel so overwhelming,” Bowman said. “It’s really amazing to see how much more peaceful food can feel for my clients, once they heal from these areas of struggle.”

The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) echoed Bowman’s beliefs, stating balanced eating is key to a sound body and sound mind. 

“A healthy diet provides more vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, and fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, which can reduce inflammation and alter neurotransmitters to reduce symptoms of depression,” according to the ASN website.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are resources right here in Maine that can help navigate through those thoughts and find a path to hope. 

Maine Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112

Maine Teen Text support:This peer support text line is for Maine youth 13 to 24 years old and is staffed by individuals 18 to 24. Talk about your feelings and get support from another young person. Daily from noon to 10 p.m. EST at 207-515-8398.

Click here for a list of resources by county. 

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