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The Importance of Physical Health for Psychological Wellbeing

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Numerous research studies have found an association between physical health and mental health. When such studies have found a correlation, or link, between physical and mental health, several themes have emerged consistently:

  • Those with mental health concerns are at a higher risk of developing chronic health issues
  • Poor mental health has been found to be a risk factor for chronic physical health problems
  • Individuals that experience poor physical health are at a higher risk of developing mental health concerns

While the bidirectional link between physical and mental health has been established between many mental and physical health outcomes, there appears to be a strong correlation between physical health and depression and anxiety. One very impactful example of this link is a study that found that treating symptoms associated with anxiety and depression in cancer patients improved survival time. Other studies have noted links between conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, digestive health, recovery post-operation and mental health. These are a small sampling of examples from the research demonstrating the well supported link between mental and physical health.

Although this information may be concerning to those who experience mental or physical health conditions, there is good news. Working to establish healthy habits can aid in reducing the risk of these conditions becoming chronic. The following tips focus on areas that are helpful to keep in mind when attempting to improve physical health.

Exercise

Get 30-45 minutes or more of exercise at least 3-5 times per week. Try to find exercises that can increase your heart rate for optimal benefit. Be creative! Exercise does not have to just be defined as going to a gym and running on a treadmill.

  • Go for a hike on one of the many hiking trails San Diego has to offer
  • Take a swim in the ocean
  • Have a friend come over and do yoga in your living room
  • Find activities that you enjoy, which makes it more likely that would be willing to keep exercising
  • Find ways to involve friends and family to help increase motivation
  • Start small. If you are not already exercising build up to 30 minutes a day. Begin by exercising 10-15 minutes a day and keep exercise moderate.
  • Feeling like you don’t have time? Divide your workouts into several small workouts (10-15 minutes) across the day, this may feel more manageable.
    • Make small changes such as parking in the furthest spot in the parking lot and always taking the stairs

Sleep

All too often I have clients who share that they are sleep deprived. It is not uncommon for people to feel as though sleep is a luxury when they have numerous commitments that need to be done daily. However, sleep is imperative for both physical and mental well being.

  • Make sleep a priority that is as important as other demands you face daily
  • Work to maintain a consistent sleep schedule
    • Try to get into bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning – even on weekends. This allows your body to fall into a natural rhythm allowing for more consistent and restful sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, other substances and heavy exercise at least several hours before bed

Most people need, on average, 8 hours of sleep per night. However, gender, age and other individual factors influence this and you may need more or less sleep. However, getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night regularly is associated with negative health impacts.

Healthy Eating

Eating healthy has long been associated with better physical health and is important for mental health as well. Healthy eating means more than just eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding fast food.

  • Eat at least three balanced meals a day and make time for healthy snacks throughout your day
  • Staying well fed allows your body to run optimally
    • Take time to make sure you take a break from work or school to eat lunch and plan for dinners so that you do not get overly hungry and over eat on foods that may be less nourishing
    • Both overeating or under eating impacts your body’s ability to run efficiently

Relaxation/Self-care

Make time, if not daily then at least several times a week, to relax and care for your own needs.

  • Do things that you enjoy or that bring you a sense of calm
    • Schedule time aside specifically for this so that it does not get neglected when things feel busy

Additional ideas for relaxation strategies can be found here.

Image: Wolfy on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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