Are Physical and Mental Health Linked?

By | January 25, 2014

People nowadays spend a lot of time at the gym, running or doing other exercises to better their physical health and get a good figure. Although maintaining your physical health is all well and good, many people tend to overlook the benefits and importance of mental health and even how the two coexist.

Sure, the difference between mental and physical well being is relatively obvious and straightforward, however their similarities and how are they connected may be a little more elusive.

Mental health and a sound state-of-mind, in fact, are just as important to your overall health as working out, correct diet and doing “cardio” and actually affects how well all of those things maintain your physical health. Speaking generally, in 2009 a research team in the United Kingdom concluded that mental fatigue leads to the body becoming fatigued faster (Mental and Physical Health). Why? The answer is simple but multifaceted:

Firstly, mental exhaustion inhibits the mind’s ability to motivate itself and to push through a physically draining task. That being the case, if you are in a sound mental state, and you go running, your mind will be ample prepared to push your body further and harder, past the initial signs of fatigue. On the flip side of that coin, if you are mentally tired, frustrated or distracted, your mind, chemically (due to the decreased levels of dopa-mine), will not be able to find the motivation to push your body, leading to a shorter, less productive workout.

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Secondly, we can see a similar aspect of the issue from the perspective of apathy, which often arises when someone is not in sound mental well being. Take the example of an emotionally distressed person, being asked about something not particularly important to them. Their answer to questions such as: “What do you think about this?” or “What should we do in this situation?” will most likely be: “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter”. Similarly to our first point above, the indifference caused by the person’s mental state, which I am sure we have all felt, directly affects their physical state when the questions become internalized: “Should I workout today?”, “Should I cook myself something healthy?” or “That portion looks a little too big for me.”

That being said, it is easy to understand how, while physical and mental health are not identical, they are, without a doubt, deeply intertwined and rely heavily on each other. While physical health may be seen as a chemical or biological state of the human body, it dictates how well your body moves, reacts to stimuli and how well you focus on things. Thus, with poor physical health, your mental health will suffer. Similarly, mental health may seem unrelated and not as important, because it is intangible and harder to regulate, but mental health has a direct effect on the body’s ability to overcome difficult physical tasks (the heart of doing any physical workout) as well as heavily affecting one’s ability to motivate themselves to do anything.

All in all, in order to be a “healthy” human being, one must not look at diet and exercise, but also at how they are feeling and the state of their mental health.

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