The gut-brain connection: How we can improve our gut health with good mental health

Research shows that mental health and cognition are strongly influenced by the composition of our gut microbiome (essentially the bacteria in your gut).  

The communication system between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis.

While the precise mechanism of this has not yet been fully explained, research suggests that the gut microbiota generally communicate and respond to the brain via the nervous system, immune system, endocrine system (hormones) and metabolic system. 

Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it is easy to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation or feel intestinal discomfort when you are stressed. 

There are several other examples of how the gut and brain communicate that may be familiar to you: 

  • When a person senses danger, the “fight or flight” response of the central nervous system is triggered, and our body’s response is to slow down or stop digestion so that more energy can be diverted to deal with the situation that is causing the threat.  
  • A fear of public speaking causes your digestive system to slow down or even speed up – you suddenly need to visit the bathroom before that big presentation.
  • When we are excited or nervous, we get a churning “butterflies in your stomach” feeling.  

This connection between the gut and the brain works in both directions as digestion and gastro-intestinal issues can create anxiety and stress and have been linked to various issues with cognitive thinking, mood and general emotional state.  

Last week we acknowledged Mental Health Awareness Week with the focus on the ‘5 Ways of Wellbeing’, as well as our connection with nature.

Here are the ‘5 Ways of Wellbeing’ and our suggestions to help you prioritise your mental health:

1. Physical activity

There are numerous benefits that being active can have on your mental health. Working towards a goal and holding yourself accountable improves self-perception and it is known to reduce your risk of depression by 30%.

Get out into the fresh air and join our Head of Online Training, Elliott Upton, as he leads you through a bodyweight workout.

We’ve made it as easy as possible for you to get active, you can do this workout in whatever space you have available and no equipment is required.

2. Social connection

So many of us have been deprived by the lack of social connection over the last 12 months during the pandemic, even though we’ve done our best to keep connected through technology. One study shows that a lack of social connection is more detrimental to our health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.

As we enter into the second half of 2021, coronavirus restrictions are starting to lift and we can use this new freedom to meet with friends and spend more time with our loved ones.

Research demonstrates that people who are more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. If distance is an issue, even one phone call will drastically increase your sense of belonging and connection with that person on the other end of the phone.

3. Giving

When we give to others it has a positive impact on our own mental health. We feel fulfiled and content with that positive deed, giving us a sense of a purpose. Whether it be lending a helping hand, giving a compliment to someone or even donating to charity, any act of kindness – big or small – is a simple way to boost your mental wellbeing.

Ultimate Performance are proudly participating in a charity event on 22 May 2021, where our trainers will attempt to lift 1 million kilograms in support of the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). Our goal is to raise $10,000 for SAMH and we need your help. If you would like to support our campaign goal, click through to read more information and access the donation link here.

4. Learning

Learning something new is not just a great use of time to broaden your horizons and drive personal growth, but it can help support better mental wellbeing too.

Immersing yourself in a new hobby or skill – like a language, a sport, an art form or something just for fun – can help boost your self-esteem. When we are challenged, cognitive stimulation helps keep our brain young, sharp and aware.

Stay in the know with our library of resources; all things fitness, training and nutrition related.

5. Awareness

It’s important to learn when to slow down and shut off from the busyness that can surround our day-to-day lives.

Taking up mindful practices, like mediation, yoga or channelling your focus into an activity like painting, can have a huge impact on your overall productivity.

Research shows that engaging in mindful breathing and relaxation techniques activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. This will help to relieve insomnia and improve your focus, beneficial to helping you make clearer and well-thought-out decisions in moments of stress.

For 10 self-care tips to help you deal with stress, click here.

What this tells us is we need to pay attention to not only our mental health but the health of our gut as one can greatly influence the other.