Life as a teenager can sometimes feel pretty intense. Juggling school, social life, assignments, and friendships, not to mention the physical and emotional changes. We would all love to find the magic answer for youth mental health, but the reality is our lives, strengths, and the risks we take are complex and differ from person to person.
There is, however, growing evidence in lifestyle medicine. This suggests that, for teenagers, six key things can play a role in both our physical and mental health.
We call these 'The Big 6'.
To help celebrate Men's Health Week (12-18 June), we sat down with Top Blokes Youth Worker and mentor Toby, who shared more about 'The Big 6' and what young males everywhere can do to help unlock positive mental health and wellbeing.
Tell us Toby, what exactly is 'The Big 6'?
Toby: 'The Big 6' is a great foundation or building block for our physical and mental health. The '6' factors – although not a guaranteed solution for specific challenges in life - if done consistently will help you build resilience and a baseline of health that will give you a great starting point to capitalise on and get your health moving in the right direction.
So where do we start?
Toby: First and foremost, sleep. Teens tend to stay up late – whether studying, gaming or catching up on the latest Netflix series. However, this lack of sleep can negatively affect our mood and concentration, making us feel anxious or depressed. Sleep is crucial as it gives your brain important 'downtime' to process and store the information it receives during the day. 7-9 hours gives us time to recharge, rebuild and refresh.
What about our physical being? Do we need to train hard?
Toby: Exercise makes us feel really good. It releases feel-good chemicals into the body and brain called endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals lift our mood, increase our energy levels, and improve our sleep. We're not suggesting you go hard at the gym each day. Even a 30-minute walk or stretch will give you a boost. So you don't need to train hard. The key is to get moving each day.
Do we need to think about what we're eating as well?
Toby: Yes, a healthy balanced diet is key. Did you know that 90 percent of serotonin is created in your gut? To help release the serotonin, we need to eat healthy foods. If you eat highly processed and refined foods, your serotonin levels aren't going to be very happy. Following a healthy diet will give your brain the right balance of nutrients to work at its best. Plus, your energy levels, sleep and general health will all be grateful.
So you really are what you eat.
Toby: For sure, but remember to drink as well. And I don't mean grabbing a can from the vending machine. The best drink we can give ourselves is water because our body relies on it to function correctly. 50-80 percent of our body is made up of water, and all the body's chemical processes take place in water. If we aren't properly hydrated, these chemical processes don't happen very well, which can impact our health. Aim for at least two litres a day to help absorb nutrients, eliminate waste, and regulate your body temperature.
That's four out of six so far: sleep, exercise, a healthy balanced diet and drinking water. What about the other two of 'The Big 6'?
Toby: In the Top Blokes program we also talk about good personal hygiene. Good hygiene can help you feel good in your own skin, give you confidence, help you interact with others, and be engaged and productive in all areas of life. It's about self-care and self-worth. When we take time to take care of our bodies, it sends a message to ourselves that we are worthy of attention and care. And this can help promote self-esteem, self-respect and a positive relationship with ourselves.
Life for most teenagers can be pretty hectic. School juggles, personal commitments, sports and social and more.
Toby: That's where routines really come into play. A daily routine supports your mental wellbeing by giving you more control of your life. A routine can help you cope with change and feel less stressed. A good routine enables you to plan your time more effectively to manage the demands of school, friends, work, play and study.
Taking care of your mental health is certainly a journey. But by embracing 'The Big 6' this Men's Health Week, you're investing in your wellbeing and prioritising self-care so you can thrive.
Toby's 'The Big 6' Tips:
Sleep: Create a sleep routine that you complete that helps you relax before bed and no screen time at least 30 minutes before bed. Matthew Walker, a leading sleep researcher and neuroscientist in The Diary of a CEO has some great hacks to help you sleep.
Exercise: Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. This could include lower-intensity exercise like walking or stretching. The type of exercise is up to you.
Healthy balanced diet: Aim to eat healthy more often than not. It is okay to have a cheat meal every now and then, but they are called 'sometimes foods' for a reason.
Drink Water: Drink a minimum of 2L per day. If you exercise and sweat, drink more! Limit energy drinks and soft drinks as much as possible.
Hygiene: Keep it clean. Make time in your routine for showering and personal care.
Routine: Aim to develop a morning routine that gets your day off to a good start. Try and include things like, exercise, natural sunlight, mindfulness, hygiene and a glass of water.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider or general practitioner for any questions you may have regarding your personal health or medical condition.