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  • Writer's pictureLeilanie Pakoa

The Three Pillars of Wellbeing.

I have no memory of when or where I first heard this phrase - it was during my final years of study. I ask during every intake, frequently check in, and look at ways of optimising these three factors almost every single day with clients and parents.

  • Exercise

  • Nutrition

  • Sleep

The interaction between food, exercise, sleep, and mental health is vastly underrated and often not seen as interconnected factors.

girls bike machine exercise


There is consistent evidence that exercise improves brain functioning, depressive symptoms, anxiety regulation, and overall wellbeing. However, it is generally not prescribed as a part of treatment for mental health concerns.

At this stage, there is no consensus on how much exercise or what type of exercise is best for treating anxiety and depression. This is probably why exercise is not part of psychological treatment plans.

However, this is your PSA that exercise is good for your brain and wellbeing! Seeking out a professional in prescribing exercise could help improve more than physical fitness. Scroll to the end for the professionals you might be looking for.

Who should I talk to when it comes to exercise?
  • Your GP - It will be important to talk to your GP if you have any other health conditions that should be considered when changing exercise regimes. Keeping your GP in the loop is always helpful with trying to adjust your health outcomes.

  • A personal trainer - If you are looking for someone to do one on one sessions with to help learn what to do at the gym, keep you accountable, or what exercise you could do at home, then you are probably looking for a PT.

  • An exercise physiologist - If you are looking to manage a chronic health condition, modify your lifestyle, gain tailored and specific exercise prescriptions, and improve overall functioning you are probably looking for an exercise physiologist.

  • An exercise scientist - If you are looking for support in improving sporting performance, altering technique, or recovering from injuries, then you may be looking for an exercise scientist.

  • A physiotherapist - If you are looking for someone to help recover from an injury, get back to full functioning, or prescribe exercises specific to an injury, then you are probably looking for a physio.


There is lots of interesting research looking into the bidirectional links between gut health and mental health. One's microbiome (bacteria in the gut) produces neurochemicals responsible for emotion regulation and cognitions. Disruptions to the gut and microbiome can impact neurochemical levels and overall wellbeing.

Allergies and intolerances can also contribute to disruptions to neurochemicals and mental health. For example, undiagnosed coeliac disease can present as major depressive disorder (Sainsbury & Marques, 2017).

Who should I talk to when it comes to food and nutrition?
  • A "nutritionist" is not a protected title - therefore quality of services are not regulated and there is greater freedom around who can provide nutrition advice.

  • A "dietician" is a protected title and can only be used by individuals who have completed specific training and professional development. Dieticians can work in more clinical settings such as hospitals, private practice, and GP clinics.

  • For general advice around heathy eating and nutrition, you are probably looking for a nutritionist. They would most likely help with food intake and gaining a balanced diet.

  • For more intensive intervention you are probably looking for a dietician. A dietician would help with disordered eating, gastrintestinal difficulties, diet counselling, and food management.


Sleep helps encode memory, repair muscles, helps the immune system stay on top of bacteria, and ultimately gives the body and brain time to turn off. Without sleep our bodies and brains can be significantly affected. For example, sleep deprivation has been linked to mood disturbances, lack of concentration, difficulty memorising, weight gain, and other physical health concerns.

It is common for people with neurodiversity - ASD & ADHD to experience difficulties with sleep, which is linked to irregular melatonin levels. Inflammation and allergies may be correlated to sleep difficulties and can sometimes go unnoticed or undiagnosed. Lifestyle factors like alcohol, caffeine, day time naps, and eating near bed time can contribute to disrupted sleep. Other underlying conditions not being treated effectively. i.e. sleep apnea or chronic pain.

What can I do about my sleep?
  • Start tracking your sleep - wear a watch that tracks it, write down bedtime, wake time, if you got up in the night. Building data will be important.

  • Try practicing better sleep hygiene - there are some ideas if you keep scrolling. We have a resources developed to help with sleep habits that can be used as a poster. We also have a couple of sleep tracking resources to download!

  • Talk to your GP about seeing a sleep specialist. If sleep is becoming a concern for you, speak to someone knowledgeable like your GP who can point you in the right direction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any one of the three pillars of wellbeing - exercise, nutrition, or sleep reach out via There are a number of potential strategies, resources, and places to connect. If we aren't able to assist we will do our best to point you in another direction.

Leilanie Pakoa

Principal Psychologist

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