Suffering from depression and anxiety becomes even more common as we get older. It’s an illness often triggered by age-related risk factors such as having a debilitating medical condition, disability, loved ones dying, retirement and loneliness. And when things go wrong with your mental health, every aspect of your life is affected – with the usual symptoms being a lack of energy, low motivation, disrupted sleep and a poor appetite. Physical complaints such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches are also linked to depression. The good news is, that there are many positive steps you can take to prevent and combat this problem. If you, or someone close, might be showing signs of depression, first see a doctor. They will establish whether this is the case, and then discuss a possible treatment plan. Mood-boosting food Research has shown that a healthy balanced diet and eating regular meals is as crucial for a person's mental wellbeing as it is for good physical health. At the moment, there’s not enough evidence to definitely claim that specific foods help relieve depression. But your goal should always be to get the right amount of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat to help your body repair and function properly – as a deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause mental illness. One of the problems associated with depression is that it can stop some people from wanting to eat, which leads to them becoming underweight – while others ‘comfort eat’ and put on too much weight as a result. Preparing smaller meals can be a good way to encourage people to eat the right amount. Our Mini Meals make nutritional management simple: by catering for smaller appetites, while still being really tasty and nourishing. Why not try a comforting Mini Cumberland Pie, Mini Oriental Chicken Noodles or Mini Asparagus, Lemon & Basil Risotto for a light lunch or dinner. Calming carbohydrates Eating foods high in carbohydrates raises the level of serotonin in the brain. This makes us feel calmer and can help reduce anxiety. However, eating carbohydrates with low levels of fibre, such as white bread and crisps, can give you a sharp spike in energy, followed by a ‘crash’, where you may feel sluggish and irritable. Which is why it’s best to choose high-fibre carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread, rice, pasta, beans, vegetables and fruit, which are digested and absorbed into the body more slowly. This helps keep blood sugar levels steady and your mood on an even keel. A healthy, high fibre way to start the day could be with a breakfast of Apple, Sultana & Cinnamon Porridge, followed by a vegetarian Sheperdess Pie made with courgettes, carrots and green lentils for lunch. And always make sure you have a drink with your meal, as even mild dehydration can affect your mood – making you feel sluggish and light-headed. Don’t be a couch potato Just getting out of bed can seem like a daunting challenge when you’re depressed. But regular exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant medication at beating depression and keeping your spirits up. This is because physical activity triggers new cell growth in the brain, and increases the amount of mood-enhancing endorphins in your body – all of which help reduce stress and muscle tension. Even short bursts of activity every day can have a positive effect – you don’t have to join a gym or work up a sweat. Simply try to add more movement, however small, into your daily routine. Use the stairs if you can, rather than taking lifts. Get off the bus further away from your home and walk briskly. Light housework and gardening all count – you could even put on some music and dance around while you’re cleaning! If you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are also many safe exercises you can do from a chair or wheelchair. Overall, the important thing to remember is that depression can be treated however bad things might seem at the time. Having the right care and support also helps enormously, particularly with independent living. If, for instance, you’d like a little help with shopping or preparing food, our range of home delivered ready meals can make a real difference to your quality of life. Have a look at our free winter brochure – it’s packed with wholesome, delicious dishes that have that true taste of home cooking. And once you’ve given us your order, our friendly delivery drivers will be happy to come round and put your selection of meals in the freezer for you.