The Link Between Mental Health and Physical Wellbeing

Our bodies and minds are intrinsically interconnected, with each supporting and influencing the other. When things become uncertain as they currently are, or there are many changes in a short period of time, we can often become easily dysregulated. Earlier unprocessed trauma can also impact one’s mental health and general well-being during this current uncertain climate.

Studies have suggested that physical health plays an important role in one’s mental health in enhancing general well-being. Generally, people suffering from mental health issues will often experience co-occurring physical health conditions, and conversely, those suffering physical health problems will often experience co-occurring mental health conditions.

 According to Julie Boehm, lead author of a 2012 Harvard University meta-analysis of 200 articles regarding cardiovascular disease and emotional state/mental health, “The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction and happiness are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status or body weight.”

This is but one example of how your mental health and physical health can affect or be affected by each other. Mental health issues are common in Australia, with around 50% of the population suffering from mental health conditions at some stage of their lives . As such, being aware of physical movement and its impacts on  mental health is important to maintaining overall health and well-being.

Severe Mental Health Issues and Cardiovascular Disease

An international study lead by King’s College London in 2017 found an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in people suffering from severe mental health conditions. The study analysed data collected from 3.2 million patients with conditions including schizophrenia , bipolar disorder and major depression . They found that people suffering from any of these were 53% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those without underlying mental health issues. In addition, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is 85% higher in people with mental health conditions compared to other people in the same age range.

Cancer, Depression and Anxiety

It is often the case that those suffering from a physical illness will have a co-occurring mental health condition  such as depression or anxiety .  Conversely, a recent study conducted by University College, London, Edinburgh University and the University of Sydney found that experiencing anxiety and depression could have some sort of predictive capacity for a physical illness (for example, Cancer).

If mental health is something you would like to shed some light on and you need to book an appointment with a doctor for referral, MyHealth1st is a platform that brings quality support to you online, making it both easy and accessible without you having to leave your home.

Serious Mental Health Issues and Life Expectancy

An Oxford University analysis has shown that as [LA1] much as or more than heavy smoking. The analysis found that people challenged with serious mental health conditions could have their life expectancy reduced by 10-20 years. In addition to the higher rates of addiction and suicide that can be associated with severe mental health issues, Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said, “Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences, and mental illness worsens the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Unfortunately, people with serious mental illnesses may not access healthcare effectively.” 

The good news is that the advances in mental health treatment and approaches have made some very positive impacts on mental health and quality support is available.

Exercise Your Brain

Everyone knows that exercise is good for your physical wellbeing , but did you know it can be equally helpful in improving your mental health? According to Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, exercise and physical activity can be as effective in treating some depression as therapy or medication , "For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn't enough for someone with severe depression".

The reason exercise can be so effective in alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety is both chemical and mental. Exercise releases a number of feel-good drugs (endorphin and serotonin), helping you feel good in the short term. Low intensity exercise sustained over time can promote the production of neurotrophic proteins. These proteins cause nerve cells to grow and form new connections and as a result can improve brain function, making you feel better in the long term. Exercise can also give people a sense of achievement and self-esteem, and also lends itself well to improved sleep hygiene.

Exercising outside and in nature can have additional benefits as well. Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature and green spaces can significantly reduce stress levels as well as alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. There is also evidence to show that children raised around nature and green spaces are less likely to develop mental health issues .

Sleep On It

Sleep is intrinsically tied in with both physical and mental health. Although the specific timing may change, when a person sleeps they cycle through two forms of sleep every 90 or so minutes. The first cycle, sometimes known as “quiet sleep” sees a person move through a number of stages of progressively deeper sleep. During these stages heart rate and breathing become slower and body temperature lowers. The deepest level of quiet sleep can affect physiological changes that strengthen the immune system.

The other cycle, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is where people dream. Heart rate, respiration and temperature are essentially the same as if you were awake. This sleep cycle helps improve learning ability, forming and retaining memories and improving emotional health. Disrupting the sleep cycle can play havoc in the brain, impairing emotional response and coherent thinking. In short, not getting enough good sleep can exacerbate mental health issues. Of course, the reverse is also true.

There are a number of sleep disorders that can affect the length and quality of your sleep, such a insomnia and sleep apnoea . Depending on the cause, you may have to see a doctor or specialist to explore what might be happening. Even so, there are a few simple things you can try to increase the quality of your sleep and practice good sleep hygiene.

  • Remove all distraction from your bedroom - including TV, computer or the like.
  • Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only.  Think of other places in the home that you can designate for reading, watching TV, listening to music or the like
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule - go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the   same time every morning.
  •  Keep your room as dark as possible.
  • Regular exercise can also increase the quality of your sleep.

Taking care of your mental and physical health can seem like an overwhelming task, and quality support is available. If you need sudden help with your mental health, Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) and Lifeline (13 11 14) are available 24 hours a day. You might also consider seeking support from a mental health professional, or a Doctor.  Medical rebates for Mental Health Plans can be accessed through Psychologists, or you may wish to work therapeutically with a Counsellor or Psychotherapist (who are more relationally oriented).

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