The Connection Between Mental & Physical Health
Every so often, I’m reminded of the plain truth that many people still do not “get” that your body’s physical health is interconnected and cannot be separated from your body’s mental health. One affects the other.
This is no more clear than a spate of news articles from this week so far demonstrating this connection. And this is just a week’s worth of connections… if you go back over the past decade, you’ll find hundreds of such studies demonstrating the strong connection between our mind and body’s health.
For instance, researchers at Bangor University in Wales found performance of a mentally fatiguing task prior to a difficult exercise test caused participants to reach exhaustion more quickly than when they did the same exercise when mentally rested. So “resting up” and finding a peaceful mindfulness before a big day of physical activity is likely going to help you feel better and last longer during the day (Mental and Physical Fatigue Linked).
Another study found that elderly adults who are more physically fit tend to have bigger hippocampi and better spatial memory than those who are less fit. The size of the hippocampus part of the brain is thought to contribute for about 40 percent of the adults’ advantage in spatial memory (Physical Fitness Improves Brain Size and Function).
And just like we’ve long known that even techniques such as psychotherapy can alter brain structures, now we have pretty strong evidence that child abuse can also cause alterations within the brain, in this case in the expression of a particular brain gene (NR3C1)(Child Abuse Alters Brain Gene).
Uncontrolled anger can lead to heart problems. People with problems coping with their anger or aggravation were found to be at ten times heightened risk for future heart arrhythmias than those without such anger problems (Manage Anger for Heart Health).
New Scientist asks whether bad sleeping habits aren’t simply a symptom of psychiatric and mental health concerns, but may be the actual cause of some of them in some people. It’s a valid question, given how much research has been conducted showing strong links between enough healthy sleep and our mental well-being (happiness)(Are bad sleeping habits driving us mad?).
Who knew that your sense of balance would have anything to do with anxiety? Researchers found that a simple course of treatment for balance problems in a group of children also relieved their anxiety issues. While not every child with anxiety has balance problems, this research points out how sometimes a physical problem can mimic a mental concern (Improve Balance, Relieve Childhood Anxiety).
Keeping physically fit means keeping mentally fit as well. That means finding healthy ways to deal with what psychologists would typically call “negative emotions” — such as anger, aggression, aggravation, fear, etc. — and reinforcing the positive emotions and behaviors in our life. It means finding ways to communicate with the loved ones in our lives, rather than bottling it all up inside and letting it simmer. It means getting enough quality sleep each and every night, and finding positive ways to relieve stress as you encounter it (such as through exercise or writing). And it means regularly keeping tabs of potentially dysfunctional behaviors, such as habits that may be turning into something more.
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Grohol, J. (2009). The Connection Between Mental & Physical Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 31, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/02/25/the-connection-between-mental-physical-health/