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How Your Physical Health and Mental Health are Linked

Table of Contents

Summary

Mental health and physical health are linked and both contribute to your overall health. Therefore, things that will improve your physical health will likely help improve your mental health and things that improve your mental health will likely improve your physical health.

What is Mental Health

What is Mental Health

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. 

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”

It is a common misconception that people are either mentally healthy or mentally ill. However, mental health is better represented as a continuum and people may fall anywhere on the spectrum. Even if you are doing well, there’s a good chance you aren’t 100% mentally healthy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates only about 17% of adults are in a state of “optimal” mental health.

What Is Physical Health

What Is Physical Health

When it comes to our overall health, we typically pay attention more to our physical health than our mental health. Generally speaking, physical health is made up of the 3 big health behaviors. Exercise, sleep, and nutrition.

Exercise

It is important to do activities that require some sort of physical effort. Running, jogging, going for a walk, yoga, and weight training are all great types of exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that youth ages 6 to 17 get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. However, only 26% of high school students participated in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Nutrition

Good nutrition is an essential part of your physical health and especially important for kids and teens who are growing. Getting the right amount of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and more are essential for your health. Staying hydrated is also important! Experts suggest you should drink between half an ounce to an ounce of water per day for each pound you weigh.

Sleep

An incredibly underrated part of your physical health is sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential to being at your best both physically and mentally. In fact, a study done in December 2020, found that sleep quality was the strongest predictor of depressive symptoms and wellbeing, followed by sleep quantity.

Here is how much sleep the Sleep Foundation recommends for each age group. To improve quality of sleep, try improving your sleep hygiene.


Age Range
Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn0-3 months old14-17 hours
Infant4-11 months old12-15 hours
Toddler1-2 years old11-14 hours
Preschool3-5 years old10-13 hours
School-age6-13 years old9-11 hours
Teen14-17 years old8-10 hours
Young Adult18-25 years old7-9 hours
Adult26-64 years old7-9 hours
Older Adult65 or more years old7-8 hours

How Your Mental Health Impacts Physical Health

How Your Mental Health Impacts Physical Health

Immune System

Being depressed, stress out, or lonely can compromise your immune system (or vice-versa). In 1992, researchers studied medical students and found that their immunity went down every year because their stress was almost stopping them from producing immunity-boosting T-cells. Another study in 2004 found that stress of any significant duration caused all aspects of immunity to decrease. In 2018, researchers exposed mice to repeated stress that caused brain inflammation and damage to the prefrontal cortex, triggering depressive symptoms in the mice.

Fatigue

Mental illness is closely linked with fatigue and often leads to declines in physical health. When someone is chronically depressed or anxious, they are less likely to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep. Fatigue from mental illness can also interfere with basic hygiene, increasing vulnerability to sicknesses.

Heart Health

For years, doctors thought the connection between mental health and heart health was strictly behavioral – such as the person who is feeling down seeking relief from smoking, drinking or eating fatty foods. However, research shows there could be physiological connections, too. The biological and chemical factors that trigger mental health issues also could influence heart disease.

The American Heart Association also notes that many forms of mental health issues can affect heart disease. There’s the temporary state of depression or a more severe, clinical case. You can also have varying levels of anxiety and stress, just to name a few of the most well-known problems.

Research does not firmly link stress and heart disease, but there’s a growing belief that it’s an additional risk factor, and maybe even more dangerous than some others.

Aches and Pains

If you’re experiencing unexplained aches and pains, it might be linked to your mental health.

Having prolonged or constant stress causes your cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise high and makes it difficult for your body to rest. This can have a negative effect on your organs and bodily functions.

In fact, [eople with mental illnesses can experience a range of physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, pain, headaches, insomnia, and feelings of restlessness. Anxiety, in particular, can also cause stomach pain.

How to Improve Physical and Mental Health

How to Improve Physical and Mental Health

Mental health and physical health are linked and both contribute to your overall health. Therefore, things that will improve your physical health will likely help improve your mental health and things that improve your mental health will likely improve your physical health. Here is a list of what you can do to improve both!

1. Make a Sleep Schedule and Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

The quality and quantity of your sleep is a building block for both physical and mental health.

2. Spend Time Outside

Fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun is proven to increase mood.

3. Schedule Time for Exercise

Be sure to make time in your busy schedule to exercise! Aim for at least an hour a day.

4. Limit Screen Time

Screen time is killing the hours kids and teens used to spend outside. Blue light from phones is also known to negatively impact sleep.

5. Prioritize Nourishing Foods

Food is not bad and it is okay to eat foods that you enjoy. However, make sure you are also fueling your body with a balanced diet.

6. Get Help When You Need It

When things are too difficult to get through alone, seek help from a trusted adult, friend, religious leader, or professional.

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