Most people consider their minds and bodies two different beasts. However, research and anecdotes from historical philosophers reaffirm that what you do to one affects the other.
How does your mental health impact your physical health? Can your thoughts and behaviors worsen your symptoms or help heal ailments? How can you improve both your body and mind?
How Mental Health Impacts Physical Health — the Mind-Body Connection
You can’t remove your brain and expect your body to continue walking around — at least, outside of 1950s sci-fi movies. Is it any wonder that philosophers have long advised starting with your mind to improve physical health?
Science now supports folk wisdom. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, people with the highest levels of self-rated distress are 32% more likely to die from cancer. People with depression also suffer higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
Recent research by Professor Vaughan Macefield at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne posits that chronic stress can rewire your brain to keep your blood pressure high. He used a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine to study what happens when participants experience pain. He found that even short-term pressure can cause structural changes.
For laypeople who lack access to scientific equipment, you can test the brain-body connection by making impartial observations the next time you experience a stressful event. Write down the choices you make regarding food, exercise and sleep.
When you experience a job loss, an unplanned relocation or the breakup of a romantic relationship, you often fall into understandable depression. Your body then craves foods that stimulate the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood. It finds them most readily in carb-laden, fattening foods like baked goods.
The problem is, you then fall into the unhealthy habit of self-medicating with food. You may undergo other physical changes, too. You may find sleep problematic if financial woes keep you tossing and turning.
Research from several studies indicates that people who had restless nights have higher levels of cortisol in their blood later the next day. This stress hormone can prompt you to overeat and interfere with decision-making skills. The result is unwanted pounds, which further frustrate you and perpetuate the vicious cycle.
Finally, you can see the mind-body connection in chronic pain patients. The isolation of their illnesses, coupled with financial pressures from medical bills, cause many to sink into depression. If they have a potentially fatal disease or defect they can’t afford to treat, their anxiety levels may skyrocket.
Eight Ways to Improve Your Physical and Mental Health
If your mental health impacts your physical health and vice versa, improving one will positively affect the other. Try the following eight activities to improve your total well-being.
1. Take a Dance Class
Dance works wonders for older adults in terms of mind-body wholeness. The challenge of following choreography, coupled with increased blood flow to the brain, positively affects cardiovascular and mental health. Research indicates that this form of exercise might help stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Walk After Dinner
Walking is an ideal exercise for the entire family. It enables you to bond through conversation as you digest and get a workout. Make your stroll mindful by pausing to listen to all the sounds you can hear and focus on the sensation of your feet hitting the sidewalk.
3. Climb Every Mountain
Rock climbing or bouldering provides outstanding cardiovascular and strength benefits. You’ll puff a bit as your quads push you up steep inclines. Plus, you must remain aware of handholds and foot placement to avoid a painful fall.
4. Transform Into a Pretzel
When it comes to mind-body exercise, you can’t top yoga, which goes back for thousands of years. There is a style to suit every taste — from athletic Ashtanga to meditative yin.
5. Seek Professional Counseling
If you have a mental disorder or suspect one, why not book a session or two with a therapist? If you lack health coverage, you can find sliding-scale clinics or telehealth options with affordable fees. If you have been struggling to lose weight, your counselor could help you discern the underlying psychological reasons you can’t say no to cake.
6. Start Your Day With Affirmations
Did you ever find the lines between dreams and reality blurred when you first awaken? These moments leave you in a hypnopompic state, where your mind is like a sponge for suggestions.
Save recordings of affirmation videos on your cellphone if you use it as an alarm, and play them when you first awaken. Watch your mood improve for the remainder of your day.
7. Sit in Meditation
Mindfulness meditation helps you clear away the mental clutter and racing thoughts that often lead to maladaptive behaviors. It can also teach you valuable insights about yourself and your underlying motivations. Take 10 minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath.
8. Practice a Gratitude Attitude
Focusing on what you are thankful for helps you to remain optimistic in stressful times. This quality illustrates how mental health impacts your physical health. In a study of 298 angioplasty patients, those with negative attitudes were three times more likely than sunnier folks to require further surgeries.
Your Mental Health Impacts Your Physical Health — Improve Them Both With These Tips
Now that you know how your mental health impacts your physical health, you have the power to transform your life. Try one or more of the above methods to improve your total wellness today.