Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

mind and body

The link between health of the mind and body is not a new discovery. It seems like common sense but, unfortunately, it’s something that many of us forget; mental and physical health are both integral to the whole health of the person.

The importance of balance between mind and body was understood by ancient Chinese medicine, which viewed holistic health as a yin-yang dynamic – placing emphasis on balance for a healthy life.

The fact is that our lives are in a constant state of change. Life is not static; it changes with every moment. ‘Our levels of rest, stress, and nutrition are constantly shifting. Whether we realise it or not, we are constantly altering ourselves so that we feel more grounded and whole.’[1]

Of course, we all struggle to maintain that necessary balance but it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s OK to lose our footing. Equally important is the reminder that we can find that balance once again.

When we are struggling or feeling lost, confused or out of balance, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by feelings of negativity and pessimism, and believe that the world is working against us.

However, if we take a step back and foster a sense of curiosity about our feelings, we can begin to ask ourselves why we might be feeling a certain way.

Many of us are guilty of blaming our feelings on external circumstances. We might blame our boss for causing us stress, or a spouse or friend for not listening to us in a time of need. However, blame is rarely fruitful. Instead, it is worth exploring our internal environment and figuring out what might be happening within, and how that could be impacting our mental health and wellbeing.

Throughout this blog, we will consider the relationship between mind and body as it relates to mental health, and we will look at proven methods for improving our mental health with a physical health approach.

 

The Importance of Exercise

 

We live in a time where both physical and mental difficulties are met with almost immediate medical intervention. Unfortunately, many medications carry harmful or adverse side effects. This is not to say that one should not take medication if it is needed, but there are alternatives and preventative measures one can take in dealing with mental and physical illnesses, one of those being regular exercise. There is, in fact, evidence to suggest that exercise may be an intervention often neglected when it comes to mental health care.[2]

Common mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, have been proven to be reduced by doing aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing.[3] In her article, Guszowska proposes that the reduction in these issues, and the reported improvement in mood, is due to improved blood circulation to the brain, specifically the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. This influences a person’s physiological reactivity to stress.’[4]

According to Callaghan, exercise improves mental health by ‘reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood, and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.[5]

The myriad of health benefits – both physical and mental – resulting from regular exercise should not be underestimated. Some of these benefits include:

  • Reduced stress.
  • Improved sleep.
  • Increased libido.
  • Improvements in mood.
  • Increased energy.
  • Increased stamina.
  • Reduced tiredness.
  • Reduced cholesterol levels.

 

Meditation

 

Yoga and meditation are commonly known to promote deep breathing and the relief of stored physical tension, which can translate to emotional tension. By incorporating yoga and meditation practices into your daily routine, you allow your mind and body to relax which, in turn, mediates the adverse effects of stress.[6]

 

How Diet Influences our Mental Health

 

How we nourish our bodies has been found to strongly correlate to our mental health and wellbeing, according to a study published in 2014.[7] The study examined behavioural factors relating to mental health, and found that consistently correlating behaviour was the level of consumption of fruits and vegetables. The study involved almost 14,000 participants aged 16 and over, including both men and women. It was found that higher consumption of nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables was associated with ‘increased odds of high mental well-being and reduced odds of low mental wellbeing.’[8]

The aforementioned study notes that mental health and wellbeing constitutes more than just the lack of illness, disease, or psychiatric pathology.[9] It is also concerned with positivity, optimism, emotional resilience, positive interpersonal relationships, positive functioning, and a sense of agency and autonomy.[10]

 

Serotonin

 

Our mental health and wellbeing is largely influenced by a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, known as serotonin. Serotonin helps us in regulating our sleep and appetite, inhibiting pain, and mediating our moods.[11] Though it is released in the brain, up to 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with about 100 million nerve cells. The functionality of these nerve cells and the production of serotonin is greatly influenced by the good bacteria within an area of the intestine known as the microbiome. It makes sense, then, that the quality of food that we introduce into our gut greatly influences our mental wellbeing, which is dependent on sufficient levels of serotonin.

Studies and research aren’t necessary when it comes to understanding the positive impact a nutrient-rich diet will have on your mind and body so mental health will also be improved. You can discover the beneficial effects yourself by increasing your intake of healthy foods and reducing your intake of unhealthy, highly processed foods. Notice your mood and energy levels, and any shifts that happen as a result of your dietary improvements.

 

 

Sources:

[1] Spencer, J., 2008. Food for thought: the role of dietary flavonoids in enhancing human memory, learning and neuro-cognitive performance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(2).

[2] Callaghan, P., 2004. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care?. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 11(4).

[3] Guszkowska M.. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood [in Polish] Psychiatr Pol. 2004;38:611–620.

[4] Guszkowska M.. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood [in Polish] Psychiatr Pol. 2004;38:611–620.

[5] Callaghan, P., 2004. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care?. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 11(4).

[6] Desai, M., Kapadia, M. and Parikh, R., 2019. Yoga And Meditation In Promoting Mental Health. [ebook] Department of Psychiatry, Jaslok Hospital and Research Center, Mumbai, India. Available at: <https://www.actascientific.com/ASNE/pdf/ASNE-02-0100.pdf> [Accessed 29 May 2020].

[7] Stranges, S., Samaraweera, P., Taggart, F., Kandala, N. and Stewart-Brown, S., 2014. Major health-related behaviours and mental well-being in the general population: the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open, [online] 4(9). Available at: <https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005878> [Accessed 29 May 2020].

[8] Stranges, S., Samaraweera, P., Taggart, F., Kandala, N. and Stewart-Brown, S., 2014. Major health-related behaviours and mental well-being in the general population: the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open, [online] 4(9). Available at: <https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005878> [Accessed 29 May 2020].

[9] Stranges, S., Samaraweera, P., Taggart, F., Kandala, N. and Stewart-Brown, S., 2014. Major health-related behaviours and mental well-being in the general population: the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open, [online] 4(9). Available at: <https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005878> [Accessed 29 May 2020].

[10]Stranges, S., Samaraweera, P., Taggart, F., Kandala, N. and Stewart-Brown, S., 2014. Major health-related behaviours and mental well-being in the general population: the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open, [online] 4(9). Available at: <https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005878> [Accessed 29 May 2020].

[11] MD, E., 2015. Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain On Food – Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626> [Accessed 29 May 2020].

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