Five helpings a day for mental health

A few months ago the UK government's science and technology think tank Foresight concluded its Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing.

The report includes an evidence-based list of five simple daily habits for mental wellbeing. These activities, which are likened to five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, are recommended to every person in the UK:

1. Connect with other people, be they family, friends, colleagues or neighbours.

2. Be active. Go for a run, walk around the block after dinner, putter in the garden or take the kids sledding.

3. Take notice. Be aware of the details of daily life - the beautiful, the humorous, the surprising. Be conscious of the world around you and your reactions to it.

4. Keep learning. Take a photography course. Learn to knit. Tackle a work problem in a different way.

5. Give. Show kindness to others. Volunteer. Support a charity. Donate blood.

The report, the result of a two year study involving over 400 international experts, concludes that making these five activities a part of daily life can have a profound impact on people's happiness.

We're a few weeks into 2009. Most New Year's resolutions revolve around physical wellbeing - losing weight, eating well and working out. We are attuned to the benefits of unprocessed foods, cardiovascular workouts and moderating caffeine.

But it's a little harder to be specific about pursuing optimal mental health, and therein lies the beauty of Foresight's concise, practical list. With some intention, these five could be seamlessly woven into most people's daily routines with little cost in terms of time or money.