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Physical and Mental Health: The Connection Between the Two

July 16, 2019

When most people think about the word “health”,  they think about physical health and yet there is a physical connection between your emotional/mental health and your physical health. It’s important not to think of your mind and your body as two separate entities but as a single system. Bad mental health can have a negative impact on your physical health and increased the risk of physical health conditions. Bad physical health can likewise cause an increased risk of mental health problems. 

There are many ways in which bad mental health can deteriorate your physical health. People who have high levels of self rated stress for example are 32% more likely to pass away from cancer. People who show high levels of depression are more likely to have an increased risk of things like coronary heart disease. Mental health conditions like schizophrenia are associated with twice the level of risk for heart disease, and three times the risk of death from respiratory diseases. 

How does the mind affect the body?

Everything about your physicality is controlled by your brain. The brain receives input from the rest of the body systems and subsequently sends out signals. It’s your brain that causes you to extend your hand when you see that you need to pick something off the counter. It’s your thoughts, your feelings that send signals that you are sad and cause your body to respond by crying.

This same process connects all facets of your physical health with that of your emotional health. Your brain is connected to the endocrine system responsible for secreting the hormones that control your emotional health and well-being. This means that what you think and how you feel, thoughts and feelings generated within the brain, can influence the types of hormones that flood through your endocrine system, which control all of the different systems interacting with in your body. This means that to some degree you can control one with the other and vice versa. Just because you feel depressed, with symptoms of headaches, weakness, or lethargy doesn’t mean you have a clinical diagnosis of depression. You might be able to control all of those symptoms by modifying your physical health, by changing the hormones and the amounts of hormones flooding through your body. Stressful thoughts might not on their own result in bad physical health but they absolutely contribute to your short and long-term physical health which means by controlling your stress, controlling your negative thoughts, and caring for your overall mental and physical health concurrently you can see improvements in both.

Working to maintain positive mental health can help you with any mental health problems you are facing but also help you with your physical health problems. With good mental health you can enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship between your mental and physical well-being.

Factors and Preventative measures

This connection between emotional and physical health demonstrates the importance of both factors and more specifically the need to integrate preventative measures.

In many cases something like a sedentary lifestyle brought about by a recent promotion in the workplace which keeps you tied to your desk, could lead to additional stress, lack of movement, poor blood flow throughout the body and specifically the brain, and mental health problems as a result.

Such situations can be tackled by way of small, preventative measures. Factors like diet and exercise play the biggest role not only your mental health but in your physical health. So changing diet and exercise you can improve both, rectify mental health problems from things like the sedentary lifestyle mentioned above. 

In order to keep your mental health improved, strong, and resilient, you can utilize preventative measures of diet and exercise.

Diet

Almost everyone knows that the food you eat impacts your body. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables with lean meat and fish on a regular basis is going to be better for your body than eating fried food and fast food everyday. But more importantly a nutritious diet can impact your mental health and your mood. 

Studies indicate that people with unhealthy diets are more likely to have symptoms of mental health issues and specifically symptoms of depression. Nutrients such as Vitamin D, all of the B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and folic acid support your mental health and not getting those nutrients can result in depression and other Mental Health manifestations. To that end it is important to consume fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and a limited amount of saturated fat or added sugar regularly. This type of healthy diet is just as important to your physical health as it is to your mental health. 

Exercise

Exercise is a wonderful way to keep your body physically healthy but, it keeps you mentally healthy as well. Even a minimum of 10 minutes of exercise done on a daily basis will increase your mental awareness, promote higher levels of energy and a more positive outlook.

Physical activity in any form improves your physical health and your mental health. Exercise influences the release and the uptake of things like endorphins. Going for a brisk walk, tending your garden, even running a marathon can all improve your quality of life. Quite literally any movement of your body that requires energy and uses your muscles can improve your physical and mental well-being. 

In fact inactivity can not only be a consequence of bad mental health but it can be a cause. Regular exercise doesn’t have to be demanding, 3 hours per day in the gym. It can be something short and simple. Regular exercising has been reported to improve individual sense of self control, it improves your coping abilities and your self-esteem. Focusing on exercise has not only distract you from negative thoughts but trying new exercises gives you the opportunity to do something new which naturally helps to clear plaque away from between the neurons. As plaque buildup between the neurons it inhibits the fast firing of those connections in your brain, slowing down your cognition, making it harder to remember things and in many cases can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s.

As you exercise you can find an outlet for frustrations, increase your energy levels as mentioned and alter the levels of chemicals in your brain. Not only can you improve the levels of Serotonin and endorphins when you exercise which naturally helps to make you happier and calmer but you reduce the amount of stress hormones that are released which can combat any mental health issues you are facing. When you exercise it naturally reduces the tension in your skeletal muscles which can physically make you feel more relaxed. Lastly, in most cases when you exercise in a gym setting, go running with others, participate in specific classes, you get an opportunity to socialize and eventually enjoy that social support system that comes with regularly exercising which goes a long way toward improving mental health.

How should you care for your emotional and physical well-being

As mentioned the best way to care for your emotional and physical well-being is to focus on maintaining positive mental health, improving your diet, exercising regularly, and overall looking out for ways to reduce stress in the body and in the mind.

You can care for your emotional and physical well-being by doing things like participating in yoga classes, taking guided meditation, alleviating bad lifestyle habits like smoking, and changing your diet.

When you care for your emotional and physical well-being don’t try to change everything all at once. It is better for you to take small steps on a regular basis and start integrating things that eventually become permanent, lifestyle changes. 

Don’t expect that you will immediately start going to the gym every single day for at least 1 hour, 7 days per week. Instead, start going to a specific class like a Jiu-Jitsu class or a yoga class once per week. After you have successfully done that for a month, add another class if you have the time. Most of the time these classes are no longer than 1 hour and if you add them slowly you can build up to a place where you are exercising five days per week at least, 30 minutes per day.

If you are a smoker, don’t expect that you will quit smoking immediately, but instead take a long-term approach slowly reducing your smoking habits over the course of the next three months. These are lifestyle changes and more than likely it took you a long time to build up to things like habitual negative thoughts, bad dietary choices, or failure to exercise regularly. So treat your transition toward better care for your emotional and physical health with the same flexibility knowing that it’s going to take time but eventually it will become a lifestyle change, a permanent habit. 

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