Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes

Dr. Roger Walsh recently wrote a landmark article in the American Psychological Association’s flagship journal, American Psychologist. The article, Lifestyle and Mental Health, outlines eight major lifestyle factors that are woefully under-appreciated in the field of mental health, despite overwhelming evidence of their psychological (and physical and social) benefits.

Here’s the abstract:

Mental health professionals have significantly underestimated the importance of lifestyle factors (a) as contributors to and treatments for multiple psychopathologies, (b) for fostering individual and social well-being, and (c) for preserving and optimizing cognitive function. Consequently, therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLCs) are underutilized despite considerable evidence of their effectiveness in both clinical and normal populations. TLCs are sometimes as effective as either psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy and can offer significant therapeutic advantages. Important TLCs include exercise, nutrition and diet, time in nature, relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management, religious or spiritual involvement, and service to others. This article reviews research on their effects and effectiveness; the principles, advantages, and challenges involved in implementing them; and the forces (economic, institutional, and professional) hindering their use. Where possible, therapeutic recommendations are distilled into easily communicable principles, because such ease of communication strongly influences whether therapists recommend and patients adopt interventions. Finally, the article explores the many implications of contemporary lifestyles and TLCs for individuals, society, and health professionals. In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical, and public health.

In my opinion, Walsh’s article has the potential to influence and unify the fields of mental health, public health, and medicine in much the same way as Dr. George Engel’s biopsychosocial challenge for biomedicine did back in 1977. The following is a list of resources related to Walsh’s article:

PDF of the article in American Psychologist

Lifestyle and Mental Health topic page on Dr. Walsh’s website

Dialogue between Roger Walsh and philosopher Ken Wilber (Part one)

Dialogue between Roger Walsh and Ken Wilber (Part two)

Full video presentation at University of California, Irvine

UC Irvine presentation in ten parts via YouTube:

(1) Impact of Lifestyle on Mental Health
(2) Exercise Benefits Body, Brain and Mind
(3) Eating for Mental Health: What Kind of Diet Is Best for Brain and Mind?
(4) Fish Oil and Vitamin D: Supplements That Benefit Body, Brain and Mind
(5) The Effects of Nature and Technology on Mental Health
(6) Relationships: The Most Powerful Factor Affecting Wellbeing
(7) Recreation and Mental Health: Good Times Make for Good Minds
(8) Relaxation and Stress Management:The Benefits of Letting Go and Letting Be
(9) Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health
(10) Helper’s High—Feeling Good by Doing Good

There is also a documentary multimedia project in development, 8 Ways to Wellbeing, that will feature Walsh’s work on TLCs. Here are two promotional videos: