The link between physical & mental health.

The wholistic approach to our health has us look at how all of our dimensions of health (also known as wellness) interrelate – that is how each dimension impacts on all of the others. More detail in this previous post: The importance of mental health.

Over the next few months the focus will be on each one of these dimensions and how they directly affect the mental dimension of health.

This month we will start with having a look at the strong links between our physical health and our mental health.

What is the physical dimension of health?

Our physical dimension of health is the one most people refer to when thoughts arise about being “healthy”.  It refers to:

the “bodily aspect” of health or the more “traditional” definitions such as the absence of disease and injury 

How can we enhance our physical health?

It is well known the many different ways that we can support our physical health, and there is a wealth of information at our fingertips. Most of us learnt what we need to do for this dimension of health from a very early age.  Basically, we can enhance our physical health by:

  • Eating well 
  • Getting enough physical activity
  • Having a sleep routine
  • Avoiding habits that are harmful (smoking, excessive drinking, unhealthy eating, sedentary behaviour etc) 

The benefits of these health enhancing behaviours, however, are not just physical (maintaining a healthy weight, increasing cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone, reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases – heart disease, diabetes, obesity etc), but each of these behaviours are also strongly linked to being able to enhance our mental health.

How do these aspects benefit our mental health?

By working on our physical health, it gives direct benefits to our mental health such as:

reducing stress, enhancing self esteem, increasing our energy, boosting mood, reducing depression and anxiety

mental health benefits from enhancing our physical health

Below are the physical health enhancing behaviours and how they can affect our mental health:

Getting enough sleep

somewhere between 7-10 hours of sleep a night (depending on your age). Sleep is the time when our body has the chance to rest and recuperate, helping us focus and become energised.  Not getting enough sleep can lead to increased stress (poor sleep can make it more difficult to deal with everyday stress that we can encounter), mood changes such as increased irritability and anger, and in some cases can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.  The flip side is that poor mental health can then lead to sleep issues – it can become a cycle that is hard to get out of.  (Sleep fact sheet – Headspace)

Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet

making sure you are eating well and drinking plenty of water.  By eating a balanced diet, it can help provide us with the energy needed to get through the day.  It also can enhance our concentration, improve our mood and lower the risk of stress.  By implementing a practice of mindful eating, it also gives us an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the food that we have before us, as well as focusing our minds on the task of eating. 

Ensuring we get enough physical activity

preferably being physically active each day of the week. This might be as simple as going for a walk. Physical activity releases endorphins, our “feel good” chemical which can boost our mood, reduce stress, lead to reduction in depression and anxiety, improve our sleep and increase our self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also help distract you from negative thoughts – especially if you practice mindfulness (being in the moment) whilst exercising. Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.

As with all of our dimensions being interrelated, it means that if we do not look after our physical health, it can have a detrimental effect on our mental health.  It is one of the many important reasons as to why we need to keep educating ourselves on these links and benefits.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: