Link between mental and physical health


Early Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Roman texts reveal that many cultures throughout history of adopted the concept that the mind impacts the body. These accounts have begun to gain credibility within the past two hundred years through the works of Mesmer and the physiological results on men screened for military service during WWI.   Within the last few decades, research has solidified the argument that the mental health has an impact on the physical body and the physical body can impact your mental health.

Dr. Tim Armstrong from the WHO Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion tells us how a healthy lifestyle makes a difference.

Non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes account for 35 million deaths each year. This is 60% of all deaths. And these diseases have common risk factors: tobacco use, inappropriate diet and physical inactivity. By avoiding these risk factors in the first place, by preventing the risk factors, we can prevent the majority of deaths due to those diseases.

  • An estimated 26% of adults have a diagnosable

mental illness.

  • About 21% of children ages 9 to 17 have a

diagnosable mental or addictive illness.

  • One in 2 of us will have a mental health issue during

our lifetime.

Less than one-third of adults with a mental health

issue will get help.

  • Up to 90% of those who get help are able to

significantly reduce their symptoms.


Four health behaviors that can add 14 extra years to your life:

“Being smoke free, exercising , moderate alcohol intake, eating 5 servings of f/v a day.”

Wareham N, Bingham S, Welch A, Luben R, et al. (2008) Combined impact of health behaviours and mortality in men and women: the EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population study. PLoS Med 5(1): e12.

Physical activity promotes improved mental health. Just 10 minutes of movement activates the endorphins in our brain (the ‘good mood’ chemicals). Regular exercise (5 days a week for 30-60 minutes) can, therefore, enhance your mood. Endorphins are your body’s natural antidepressant, so exercising can be a very effective way to prevent or reduce mild to moderate depression.

Studies show that one hour of moderate exercise is equivalent to taking an antidepressant. In 2005 Dr. Joseph Mercola reported on his website that: “More and more researchers and physicians are coming to the conclusion that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of major depression. Research on the subject has demonstrated that:

  • 10 months of regular, moderate exercise outperformed a leading antidepressant (Zoloft) in easing symptoms in young adults
  • 30-minute aerobic workouts done three to five times a week cut depressive symptoms by 50 percent in young adults”

Exercise has also been shown to prevent, reduce, or delay diseases like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, arthritis, constipation, among others. Endorphins are our body’s own pain killers, so exercise can relieve or reduce physical pain, like low back discomfort, headaches, and knee pain.

Keep in mind that 80% of our endorphins are stored in our stomach. Digestive health, therefore, plays a big part in emotional health. Disease such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, Crone’s disease and constipation can increase the likelihood of depressed mood and irritability.

Simple changes in the way you think can make a significant impact on your brain structure. Neuroplasticity (increased brain density which makes for a healthier brain) is a product of regular doses of meditation and positive affirmations. “One of the most well-known studies to demonstrate this was led by Sara Lazar, from Harvard University, in 2000. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has led experiments in cooperation with the Dalai Lama on effects of meditation on the brain. His results suggest that long-term, or short-term practice of meditation results in different levels of activity in brain regions associated with such qualities as attention, anxiety, depression, fear, anger, the ability of the body to heal itself, and so on. These functional changes may be caused by changes in the physical structure of the brain.”

Lazar, S.; Kerr, C.; Wasserman, R.; Gray, J.; Greve, D.; Treadway, Michael T.; McGarvey, Metta; Quinn, Brian T. et al. (28 November 2005). “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness”. NeuroReport 16 (17): 1893–97.

Meditation builds emotional resilience, happiness, and a positive outlook which impacts health, well-being and productivity. Regular meditation practice helps with focus and concentration. Regular meditation can also reduce medical costs in that medical issues can be stabilized or reduced with meditative practice.

  • Normalizes blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels
  • Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of blood lactate.
  • Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches.
  • Builds self-confidence.
  • Increases serotonin production which influences mood and behavior. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches.
  • Helps in chronic diseases like allergies, arthritis etc.
  • Reduces pre-menstrual symptoms.
  • Helps in post-operative healing.
  • Enhances the immune system. Research has revealed that meditation increases activity of ‘natural-killer cells’, which kill bacteria and cancer cells.
  • Reduces activity of viruses and emotional distress.
  • Increases energy level and mental clarity, therefore reducing mistakes and increasing productivity in the workplace.
  • Improves relationships
  • Promotes relaxation and positive intent
  • Fazarko, D, et al. The Impact of an Innovative Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program on the Health and Well-Being of Nurses Employed in the Corporate Setting. J Workplace Behav Health. 2013 Apr;28(2): 107-133.
  • The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,

Our physical health plays a huge role in our brain health. Many physical ailments and diseases have a negative impact on memory function. Some of the most common health issues that can affect memory are:

  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • cancer
  • thyroid imbalance
  • high cholesterol
  • vitamin B-12 deficiency

Keep in mind that this is only a partial list; there are many other physical conditions that negatively impact memory performance. Many physical conditions, left untreated or unresolved, can lead to serious mental impairment and disease.

Sleep quality is often overlooked when it comes to overall physical and emotional health. Lack of sleep can affect mood, promoting irritability, lack of concentration, emotional eating, and higher risk of injury when exercising or just moving. Lack of sleep also disrupts hormones that determine when you are hungry and when you are full. When these hormones are dis-regulated we have difficulty determining when we are hungry or satisfied which can lead to overeating. When we are tired, we tend to crave high fat, high carbohydrate foods, also leading to weight gain.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that some 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder or intermittent sleep problem. Women experience the problems more often than men, and sleep difficulties increase with age.

Among other findings in the poll:

  • 46 percent said their sleep needs aren’t being met.
  • 35 percent said they sleep less than six hours a night.
  • 41 percent said they have driven while sleepy.
  • Almost on-third said that lack of sleep affected their work.
  • One-third said lack of sleep caused emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression.
  • 89 percent reported insomnia, 33 percent reported restless leg syndrome, and 14 percent reported sleep apnea

Quality sleep is imperative for physical and mental health. So, how can you improve your sleep ‘hygiene’? Here are some tips:

  • Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, including your days off.
  • Give yourself at least 30-60 minutes to wind down before bedtime (this includes avoiding a lot of stimulation, like loud noises/music/TV shows, bright lights).
  • Keep your bedroom a work-free room, avoiding anything other than sleeping and sex in the bedroom (and don’t keep your computer, TV, vacuum cleaner or work desk in your bedroom).
  • Keep your bedroom dark, and a cool and comfortable temperature.
  • Have comfortable pillows and sheets.
  • Avoid any caffeine, sugar or alcohol in the afternoon and evening.
  • Avoid exercising 1-2 hours before bedtime if it affects your sleep, unless it is relaxing, like stretching or deep breathing.
  • Use relaxation tapes or white noise to help you fall asleep.
  • Avoid heavy eating before bedtime as it can lead to heartburn and indigestion and disrupt your sleep.
  • Avoid drinking a lot of fluids before bedtime as this can disrupt sleep if you have to use the bathroom.

While practitioners have the benefit of solid research based treatments that are very likely to increase health while reducing symptoms, the treatments are only effective if patients are compliant with that treatment. Compliance is a manifestation of good mental health, intrinsic motivation and discipline that result in healthy behaviors.

The recent discovery of people making better decisions leading to mental health is so prevalent that health insurance companies have invested money into staffing their call centers with mental health practitioners. The numbers are so clear that insurance company actuaries have discovered that the cheapest way to reduce symptoms of physical health is to emphasize good physical health.

If an insurance company pays a practitioner a small amount to help their members stop smoking, then the company saves large amounts of money in health care costs later. This same model is used by insurance companies with substance abuse treatment, bariatric surgery seekers and people in crisis. The mind-body connection was once thought of an “out-there/woo woo” concept is now the mainstream practice of Fortune 500 insurance companies.

As people become more aware of their choices regarding their health the healthier they become.   You cannot go past a health website or magazine without seeing the word “mindfulness” somewhere in the article. The discipline that best addresses this need for physical health choices is the mental health profession.

It is not uncommon in practice to see someone lose the excess weight they have had all of their lives once they have addressed the psychological traumas from their youth related to sexual abuse.

As people integrate their cognitive processes to replace irrational thoughts based in fears, a person with social phobia can replace self-medicating with alcohol with appropriate coping skills.

Wellness is about lifestyle improvement, lifestyle change and maintaining that positive change. Setting goals along your journey can help keep you focused on what you want to achieve. By asking yourself, “How can I grow further?” and “How can I improve myself?” you are on your way to enhancing your wellness. This article gives you resources on the benefits of setting goals and how to be successful with them.

  • Goals give you a long term vision. When you have a long term vision, you can then set small ‘baby step’ goals along the way that are relevant to the long term vision. For example, if your long term vision is running a 5K next year, then you can make small goals along the way, like walking for 30 minutes 4 days a week, then maybe start jogging, or joining a running club. Gradual steps towards preparing for a 5K run make the long term vision more achievable.
  • Goals give you motivation to make changes. Having a specific goal can help you stay motivated to move toward your goal. When you have a visual of what you want to achieve, it becomes more tangible.
  • Goals keep you organized and focused. Having a goal to work toward can keep you set on action steps along the way. You have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and you can pace yourself to take gradual steps along the way.

Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich”, interviewed over 500 American millionaires across 20 years, including Henry Ford, JP Morgan, Rockefeller, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison.

He concluded that the main cause of failure is having no definitive chief aim in life – or failure to set clear and attainable goals- and plans to accomplish these goals.

When you are able to plan and organize your lifestyle, reaching your goal can become more manageable, and you can focus on what you need to do to accomplish your goal with less resistance and stress.

Goals should be something that you want for yourself. Make sure that your goal is yours and not want someone else wants you to do. Otherwise, you may lose your motivation and interest in the goal and give up. When you are passionate about your goal, you are much more likely to achieve it.

Setting SMART goals:

  • Specific. Having a specific goal helps keep you focused and gives you a good visual and clarity on what your goal is, instead of a goal that is vague. For example, instead of saying “I want to eat healthier”, a specific goal can be “I will eat one fruit and one vegetable every day.”
  • Measurable and Meaningful. Goals need to be measurable so you can create realistic and achievable ones. You can then adjust as you need to along the way. Your goals should be meaningful to your long term vision, and what you want to accomplish for yourself.
  • Achievable and Action-oriented. For change to occur, you need to have a plan of action. Make sure you take baby steps along the way so the goals are achievable.
  • Realistic and Relevant. Keeping goals realistic can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. For instance, if you are not exercising at all, then making a goal to exercise every day for an hour can be unrealistic. Instead, you may want to start off with exercising 15 minutes 3 days a week and gradually work up to what you want to do. Goals should be relevant to your long term vision.
  • Time bound. To make sure that you are giving yourself enough time to achieve a goal, it is important to have your goal time bound. It also helps prevent you from procrastinating on working toward your goal.

More tips to make your goals successful:

Write down your goal. Writing down your goal gives you a good visual and reminder. Keep your goal close by, like on the refrigerator, on your desk or computer as a reminder of what you want to accomplish.

Share your goal with others. Telling others about your goal not only helps with support, motivation and accountability, but you are also three times more likely to achieve the goal.

Keep your goal realistic and challenging. In order to grow and improve, your goal needs to be challenging, just enough to push yourself slightly beyond your comfort zone. It also needs to be realistic for you, so that you can achieve the goal.

Enjoy the journey. Setting goals for yourself can help you stay focused and motivated to move forward, and gives you a vision of what you want to achieve. Enjoy your journey to wellness and be gentle with yourself when you have a setback. Use the setback as an opportunity for growth and learning and continue moving forward with what you can do.