Our idea of health is often divided into two parts: physical and emotional. Too many people prioritize one over the other, not understanding how closely these two aspects of health are linked.
Modern research is showing that the old saying “healthy body, healthy mind” is true. But the opposite is also proving to be true. Healthy mind, healthy body.
This article will explore the relationship between physical and mental health.
Mental Health Affects Physical Health
Our mental health affects our physical health in a variety of ways. When we experience anxiety, stress, or depression for extended periods of time, chemical activity on our brains can create a ripple effect through our entire bodies.
Poor Heart Health
When we are stressed, our blood vessels contract. In short bursts, this isn’t harmful, but over extended periods the strain can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk for heart attack or stroke.
Research shows a clear link between mental and emotional issues and weight gain. One study showed that normal weight women with major depression had twice the cortisol levels and intra-abdominal fat as those without depression.
Depression, anxiety, and stress have also been linked to an increased tendency to overeat which can also lead to weight gain.
Stress and anxiety are often correlated with low levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known as the “happy hormone,” and is also a precursor to melatonin, the hormone which regulates sleep.
Dealing with mental stressors doesn’t just emotionally exhaust us, it physically tires us as well. You’ve probably noticed feeling physically exhausted after a long day at work or school or working on a project even though you weren’t physically active.
One study found that participants engaging in physical activity tired much more quickly after having undergone a 90 minute mental challenge.
Chronic stress and anxiety can weaken your immune system. One ten-year study researched medical students and found that immunity decreased every year during the three-day exam period at the end of the semester.
Physical Health Affects Mental Health
The old saying “healthy body, healthy mind” probably began as an observation. People noticed that they were happier and more content when living healthier lives. Modern research has shown that this might be truer than we ever imagined.
Exercise Reduces Depression
Physical exercise triggers a release of endorphins in the brain. Many of these endorphins are related to a positive mood and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Exercise has also been shown to improve self-esteem.
As one example, a recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.
A healthy diet promotes good bacteria in the gut. These bacteria may then positively affect neurotransmitter production, creating more serotonin and dopamine. By eating healthy, you set yourself up for fewing mood fluctuations, a lower risk of obesity, and a better self-image.
Where To Start
Learning what you’ve learned, you might think, “If my physical health affects my mental health, and my mental health affects my physical health, where do I start?”
Thankfully, this “chicken and egg” question actually does have an answer. The truth is that there isn’t a bad place to start when it comes to improving your health. Making strides with your mental health will make it easier for you to embrace healthy habits such as exercising and eating healthy, and the reverse is true as well.
So don’t procrastinate! Every little thing you do contributes to your overall well-being. So instead of being worried about where to start, just start somewhere! Anything is better than nothing.
It is certainly helpful and important to understand the different aspects of health. But remember that the key to true health is being well rounded. Focusing too much in one area can leave other areas lacking.
The next time you feel the temptation to invest too heavily in a single health area, remember that when it comes to health, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.