What do you think of when you hear the word “health”? Most of our brains automatically think physical health- exercising, healthy eating, drinking water, etc. And while physical health does play a large role in keeping our bodies in shape and functioning properly, our mental health is just as important to maintain to achieve a healthy and happy lifestyle.
The link between mental health and physical health is generally misunderstood because the mind and body are considered two separate entities, but oftentimes these two entities need to work together for our own wellbeing. Our mental health can directly affect our physical health and vice versa. Here’s how.
How Mental Health Can Affect Your Physical Health
About 1 in 5 people in the US struggle with their mental health. Symptoms of poor mental health can include negative thinking, low energy levels, change in mood or behavior, isolation, struggling to cope with stress, changing in sleeping or eating patterns, negative self-talk, and feeling sad or depressed.
If you suffer from any of the symptoms above, it does not mean you have a mental illness. Poor mental health becomes a mental health disorder (mental illness) when your symptoms become frequent and start to affect your ability to physically function in daily life. Some common mental illnesses include
- Eating Disorders
- Bipolar Depression
So, how does your mental health affect your physical health? Don’t be fooled by its name. Your mental health can affect more than just your mind, it can also affect your behavior and your body. Poor mental health will not only impact your body’s ability to make healthy decisions, but it can also increase your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and other health complications like obesity, weakened immune system, and more.
Studies have found that those who suffer from depression bodies show changes in how they function, which could have a serious impact on their physical health. Those changes include:
- Increased inflammation
- Chronic fatigue
- Changes in the control of heart rate and blood circulation
- Abnormalities in stress hormones
- Metabolic changes such as those seen in people at risk for diabetes
Poor mental health can drain all of your energy and prevent you from working on your physical health, but increasing your activity and working on your physical health can actually improve your mental health.
How Physical Health Can Affect Your Mental Health
Physical health is the state of your physical body and how well it is operating. Ways to maintain your physical health can be broken down into four categories.
- Lifestyle – staying active throughout your day, getting enough sleep, drinking water
- Diet – eating balanced foods that nourish your body
- Hygiene – keeping yourself and your environment clean and kept-up
- Exercise – using and strengthening your body and muscles
Working on your physical fitness and health will not only add years to your life, it can also improve your mood and help prevent mental illness. People who are healthy and active feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better, feel more relaxed, and think more positively about themselves and life in general. Living a healthy lifestyle and staying physically active reduces your chance of chronic diseases and conditions, like type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
Exercise by itself is a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. Studies show that it can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressants, reduce the symptoms of ADHD, and work as a treatment for anxiety. That’s because exercising promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases the endorphins dopamine and serotonin into your body- which make you feel good and less stressed.
Which Is More Important?
So, which is more important, mental health or physical health? The link between physical and mental health is complex, but the answer is simple your body needs both mental health and physical health to function properly and let you live a happy and healthy life. If you are struggling in one area, you may choose to focus on one over the other and that is okay. Just remember the influence they have on each other and how important it is to keep up with your health both mentally and physically.
Looking for ways to stay healthy and combat stress and anixety? Click here.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you are not alone. Please reach out to a mental health professional. If you do not feel comfortable speaking to a professional, start by reaching out to a close colleague, family member, or friend.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
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