Mind & Body: The Connection of Mental and Physical Health

January 06, 2016

Many people do not realize just how much our mental and physical health are directly connected. The food we eat, the exercise/activity that we do, and the amount of sleep we get can not only have a huge impact on our bodies, but can in turn, have an enormous impact on our minds and our mental health. Let’s break this down and look at a few key factors.

Healthy body means a healthy mind.

#1) Nutrition:

For years we have heard that having a balanced, healthy diet means we have healthy hearts, decreased risk of diabetes, decreased risk of cancer, and more. However, nutrition plays an important role in brain health as well. Scientists have found that gut health has a direct impact on mental health and has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, and other mental health concerns. Although altering one’s nutrition alone often will not completely rid an individual of their symptoms, a healthy diet can greatly help especially when combined with talk therapy. Think about this scenario for a moment: when you eat a cheeseburger, your blood sugar levels quickly spike, which creates a spike in insulin, leaving you initially satisfied. However, due to the fact that foods like this are quickly broken down and absorbed, your insulin levels quickly drop, and you feel the urge to eat again because your blood sugar is low again. When this happens, your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) spike as well. In the end, you are left hungry again, with higher stress hormone levels, which in turn can have a negative impact on your state of mind. However, healthier foods, such as fruits, veggies, lean proteins (like chicken), almonds, and more are nutrient dense, are slower to absorb, and leave your fuller longer. In addition, your body and your mind receive nutrients that you need to be healthier and have a clearer mind. A healthier, happier body makes for a healthier, happier mind and usually a happier mood as well.

5 Foods to Improve Mental Health
Mental Health Diet

#2) Exercise/Physical Activity:

This is an area that can also be a difficult one for many individuals. In the busy and hectic days of our lives, sometimes it is difficult to find time for exercise or physical activity. Yet, there are many benefits from exercise on one’s mental health. Exercise can decrease stress, which in turn can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise produces endorphins, which can make us feel happier and more positive. Exercise can boost one’s self-confidence and self-esteem, helping us feel better about ourselves. Exercise can help with mental focus, clarity, brain power, and energy levels. Exercise has been found to help with controlling addictions as well. When your body is healthier and more relaxed, your state of mind reflects on that. What people forget is you don’t have to been an athlete, a regular runner, or weight-lifter. A simple 20 minute walk outside can automatically decrease stress. Finding what form of physical activity you like will help ensure that you do it more often. If you have friends, a significant other, or children, getting others involved can also lead to social interaction and bonding time, which can have a very positive effect on mental health. Starting small and working your way up is the way to go!

More Info on Mental Health Exercise

#3) Sleep:

Many people do not get enough sleep. However, sleep has so many benefits to our mental health. One important factor to consider with sleep is lack of sleep can raise our hormone levels which can affect mood and stress levels. Lack of sleep has been linked to mental health concerns such as depression, suicidal ideation, and more risk-taking behaviors. Like a car needs gas to run, your brain needs sleep to function properly. Without that, one can begin to experience many negative side effects, including worsening mental health.

Paying attention to the foods you eat, to the physical activity that you do, and to your sleep patterns can only benefit your positively. Your mental and physical health directly impact each other and having a healthy mind can help us in our daily lives in terms of relationships, work, self-esteem, and much more!

Written By: Angelica Beker, LPC


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