"A clear distinction is often made between 'mind' and 'body'. But when considering mental health and physical health, the two should not be thought of as separate." - The Mental Health Foundation
Mental health affects physical health, and vice versa. Although many people don't connect the two, they are very much intertwined and interconnected. To prioritize your well-being, you need to think about both your mental and physical health!
This article explains how your mental health and physical health are connected.
What is Mental Health?
Many of us only talk about mental health when it comes to mental health problems — but just like physical health, we all have mental health. Mental health is the well-being of a person on emotional, social, and psychological levels.
Here's how the World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health: the state of well-being where every individual realizes his or her own potential, manages the normal stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to her or his community.
Mental health is not just the absence of disorders. Rather, there is a scale that each person can fall on, and some fall right in the middle. They might not have a diagnosis, but they wouldn't say their mental health is better than okay.
Plus, mental health can shift throughout a person's life. While they might struggle with mental health problems for one year, they might feel mentally well the next.
Some of the most common mental health problems include depression and anxiety.
What is Physical Health?
Physical health is centered around exercise and nutrition.
Exercise is any movement of your body that uses your muscles and expends energy. Exercise is essential to improve your overall well-being. For example, it releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood. These boost your mood and make you feel good!
Exercise also helps balance your body’s level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline. Adrenaline plays a crucial role in your fight-or-flight response. However, too much of it over a long period of time can damage your health. It can cause weight gain, digestive diseases, and inadequate nutrient absorption.
Nutrition is also essential because of the gut-mind connection. Just like mental health can cause physical distress in the gut, if your gut isn't healthy, it can cause anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are closely connected.
Besides exercise and nutrition, physical health also encompasses injuries and other lifestyle choices, such as smoking.
How Mental Health Affects Physical Health
Your mental health affects your immune system. For example, depression suppresses your T cell responses, making you get sick faster and stay sick for longer.
Also, poor mental health affects your energy levels. Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of depression and anxiety. This symptom of fatigue is critical because when someone with depression or anxiety can't even get out of bed, how are they going to find the energy to work out? Fatigue from mental illness can also cause bad hygiene, which leads to an increased risk of physical illness.
Another way mental health affects physical health is that stress is bad for your heart. Chronic anxiety causes rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and sleep problems, all of which can have a detrimental long-term impact on heart health. The link between anxiety and heart conditions is strong. Anxiety has shown to be prevalent in patients who have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
And finally, people with mental health problems tend to live shorter lives than those who are mentally well.
How Physical Health Affects Mental Health
Exercise is a major factor that contributes to a person's mental well-being. Physical exercise enhances your mood, and the effects are not only short-term. Exercise can also alleviate long-term depression.
Exercise also helps patients who struggle with anxiety by decreasing sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety. Exercise also decreases the intensity and frequency of panic attacks. Exercise can also be a proactive, healthy way to release pent-up tension and reduce feelings of fear and worry. Overall, exercise decreases stress hormones!
There's also evidence that physical exercise prevents or slows the progression of illnesses that mainly affect your brain, such as Alzheimer's disease. Regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30%. For Alzheimer's disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45%.
And finally, exercise can simply be a distraction for people who struggle with negative thoughts.
Better your Well-Being by Focusing on Both Mental and Physical Health
Since mental health and physical health are so intertwined, it's important to focus on both as you work to better your overall well-being. Here are our tips to help you on your journey to well-being:
Stay consistent, but don't overdo it
Experiment with your routine
Focus on your favorite exercises that make you smile
Seek therapy or counseling if you're able to and struggling
Write gratitude lists
Remember, working on your physical health will better your mental health, and vice versa! They're both important, and you have the power to influence both!