The Link Between Physical and Mental Health

There is a clear connection between your mind and body, however when considering the connection between physical and mental health, the link has often been misunderstood

Updated: Thursday 16 June 2022

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There is a clear connection between your mind and body, however when considering the connection between physical and mental health, the link has often been misunderstood as two entities when in fact they are just as interlinked with one another. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organisation defines ‘health’ as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and states that ‘there is no health without mental health’.

Connecting the mind and body

Mental illness is more common than many of us think or know as around one in five people suffer from mental illness. It spans across a number of different problems which can affect an individual’s mood, behaviour and thinking.

So what’s the link between your mental and physical health?

Poor mental health has a damaging effect on your ability to make decisions and can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases. It can also reduce your life expectancy by 10 to 20 years. Our minds control our thoughts, beliefs and emotions so different mental states will affect us either positively or negatively. It can trigger a physical symptom, for example butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous. However, going deeper than that, our mind-body connection influences our health and the risk of poor physical health. For example, feelings of anxiety will cause our stress hormones to rise which will reduce our immune system function and prolonged feelings can increase the risk of physical illness and other mental health conditions.

A study carried out by Kings College London in 2017 showed that those suffering from mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression were at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. This study was the largest of its kind where 3.2 million patients were examined across several countries and results showed that those with mental illness were 53% more likely of developing cardiovascular diseases and their risk of dying from the disease was 85% higher than those of a similar age within the general population.

Poor physical health can increase the likelihood of poor mental health (and vice versa). Regular physical activity, especially after a hard day can help to boost ‘feel good’ chemicals within the body, lifting your mood and helps to distract your mind of stress which all links to better mental health and well-being.

Depression and Heart Disease

Depression and heart disease go hand in hand, and depression has also been shown to accelerate the risk of other physical illnesses too. Depression is linked to a lack of energy and motivation which in turn makes daily routines such as regular exercise, healthy diet and following a medicine regime a challenge which can lead to heart disease. A study in 2009 researching patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease found that 22% of all the patients suffered from mild depression and 17% of patients were reported using antidepressants.

Ways to improve your mental and physical health

Good news – with some small changes in your lifestyle, you can improve your mental and physical health simultaneously.

  • Exercising
    Incorporating exercising into your routine will change your physical and mental wellbeing in a positive way. Exercising increases endorphins and improves our brain function, which helps to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Yoga is a great way for destressing and focusing the mind or try walking for 30 minutes each day.
  • Sleeping well
    Sleep is closely related to our mental health and adults suffering from clinical depression do experience some form of sleeping difficulties, which then is linked to poor physical health. Therefore, it’s important to instil good bedtime habits to be able to have the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. Some ways include: sleep and wake up at the same time each day, avoid caffeine and alcohol and try meditating before bed.
  • Eating well
    Our diet has a major impact on our bodies, and research has shown that foods containing magnesium and vitamin B are good sources for the release of serotonin which is linked to stabilising moods and also reduce stress and anxiety. Eating the right foods will not only help with your mental health, but will also keep you in great physical shape too.
  • Socialising
    Our social circle has a huge impact on our mental health and surrounding yourself around your friends and family will make you happier and live longer than those who do not. People who detach themselves are more likely to feel depressed so It’s important to make an effort and be in the company of people you enjoy being around.
Toby Watson

Written by: Toby Watson

Pharmica Medical Writer

Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.

He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.

Find out more about how we ensure the accuracy of our content with our content guidelines.

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