You can't live a healthy life without your mind or your body — they’re connected. Having a healthy mind supports a healthy body and vice versa. In my medical practice, I have seen people whose physical health improved once their mental health was better. And unfortunately, I have also witnessed mental health conditions make physical ailments worse.
Mental health encompasses your emotions, thoughts, mood, psychology, and social well-being. It influences your actions, feelings, and motivations. And it affects your relationships, choices, performance, and productivity.
Physical health is more than just the absence of disease. It's your overall well-being, every part of your body working as it should and you feeling great too. The World Health Organization defines health as being more than the absence of disease, but a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.”
Because your mind and body are so closely linked, illness in your mind can worsen your physical health.
Both physical and mental illnesses are influenced by factors you can't change like:
Brain injuries and infections
Childhood trauma and loss
Environmental toxins like lead
And some you can, such as your:
Recognizing the connection between the two and making changes can help improve your mental and physical well-being. Here's more about the connection between your mind and body, and what you can do to support your mental and physical health.
What's the Mind-Body Connection?
The mind-body connection is the way your mind and body interact. This connection means that having a mental health condition can worsen your physical health. And having a physical health condition can worsen your mental health.
There has been lots of research showing a link between mental health and physical health.
Here are some ways mental health conditions can increase your risk of physical illness:
Lower motivation to care for yourself: When you have a mental health condition, self-care takes a back seat. Good nutrition, physical activity, hygiene, good sleep, and other healthy habits can be harder to stick to. In time, this can worsen your physical health by exposing you to lack of nutrients, infectious agents, and a higher risk of physical illness.
Poorer lifestyle choices: Mental illness is linked with people making poor choices. This could include choosing to use substances, engaging in risky sexual behavior, or even self-harm.
Lower immune system function: Research shows that poor mental health also lowers your immune system function, which makes you more likely to get conditions like the common cold and other infections.
Cause hormone imbalance: Mental illness can involve plenty of stress and trigger the release of huge amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. Persistently high levels of cortisol are linked with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Create sleep difficulties: Mental illness can disrupt your sleep, leading to sleep deprivation. Inadequate sleep is linked with a higher risk of vehicular and equipment accidents, falls, and low immune system function. And sleep deprivation also worsens mental illness.
Increase risk of chronic disease: Research shows that people with mental illness have a higher risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. And chronic disease also makes it more likely for you to experience mental health conditions like depression.
Lower access to treatments: People with mental health conditions are less likely to get treated for physical ailments. And even when you get care, you may be less likely to stick to medications, advice, or treatments given.
Does Physical Fitness Affect Your Mental Health?
While physical and mental health are linked, research also suggests that being physically fit can reduce your risk of mental illness.
One study showed that researchers could predict how likely someone was to have mental illness by measuring their physical fitness. They measured fitness by examining their grip strength and how well their heart and blood vessels worked.
Being overweight or obese has been linked to a higher risk of mental health conditions like depression. And people with obesity have higher rates of mental illness than the general population. Overweight and obese women are more likely to experience depression, probably due to the unfair expectations of society and emphasis on thinness as a measure of beauty.
Eating disorders like binge eating, and anxiety disorders like social anxiety are also common among people with obesity. These individuals are also likely to have body image dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.
Caring for Your Mind and Body Despite Health Conditions
Here are my best tips for mind and body care.
Make healthy food choices: Eating the right amount of nutritious foods can help you keep your mind and body healthy. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins are filled with nutrients. Raw fruits and vegetables were shown to be better for mental health than processed foods. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon can support brain function. Research suggests that eating a moderate amount of bananas can reduce symptoms of depression in men, but researchers saw an increase in depressive symptoms in women who ate a lot of bananas. The takeaway for both genders: Try moderate consumption.
Get enough physical activity: Experts recommend about 150 minutes of physical activity each week as well as two strength training sessions for most adults. This amounts to about 30 minutes, five days a week. Walking, cycling, swimming, lifting weights, and gardening are great choices.
Quit smoking and using substances: Smoking and substance use can worsen mental illness and increase your risk of conditions like cancers, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, overdose, and other conditions.
Get screened regularly: Mental and physical illness can often be detected before they become severe. Where possible, get regular checkups and screenings. These activities can help detect depression, anxiety disorders, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and a host of other conditions.
Sleep well: Sleep is a restorative, energizing, and healing activity that supports your physical and mental health. Focus on sleeping enough and well. Aim for at least 7–8 hours of sleep each night. Practice proper sleep hygiene and habits like sleeping at the same time each night, sleeping in a cool, dark room, and emptying your bladder before bedtime.
Develop mental fitness habits: Habits like meditation, journaling, deep breathing, prayer, gratitude, affirmations, and visualizing positive scenarios can help you focus and stay calm, strong, and positive.
Develop healthy relationships: Friends, family, and connections that support, love, and respect you will benefit your mind and body. They can help you cope with stress, boost your self-esteem, and support healthy behaviors.
Create time for rest and restful activities: It’s easy to get lost in the hustle, but it's unhealthy. Aim to devote time to rest and restful activities like hobbies, reflection, reading, creating, music, pets, art, reading, and play.
Contribute towards meaningful causes: Being a part of a good cause helps you feel useful and helpful. And research suggests it has psychological wellbeing benefits too. You can volunteer in person or online to support a number of causes for the greater good.
Recognize signs of illness and seek help early: Sometimes illness appears out of nowhere, but other times you can notice when something isn't right. When you suspect that something is off about your mind or body, it's not time to ignore it. Rather, try to understand as much of it as you can and take notes. Then see a healthcare professional as soon as possible. It’s often best to seek help early before complications or further damage happens.
Use physical and mental health resources: There are many resources designed to help with your physical and mental health, such as apps, e-books, clubs, communities, and more. Get the knowledge and support you need to live a healthy, happy life.
Your mind and body are inseparably linked. Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to help your mind and body stay healthy. A healthy diet, physical activity, good sleep, good habits, and great relationships can curate the foundation for all around well-being. And when you need to seek help, don't hesitate to seek out a professional.
With the right support and healthy choices, you can protect your mental and physical health. As a physician, It’s always a delight for me to see people taking charge of their health and living healthier, happier lives. Get a consultation with an expert — a certified personal trainer who can create a training program created specifically for you that can help improve your physical and mental health. Get in touch now, and start living your best life.