Peruse any health site and you'll find information on mental health tucked away in its own little corner. But your brain is a part of your body, so it should come as no surprise that that which affects your brain will also affect your body. If you want to cultivate better physical health, the journey may begin with your mental health. And if you're experiencing mental health problems, look no further than the way you treat your body.
1. Diet, Exercise, and Psychology
Diet and exercise affect your mind just as much as your body. A handful of studies have shown that regular exercise can be just as effective at treating depression as popular antidepressants, and research has repeatedly shown that diet can change everything from anxiety levels to cognitive functioning. For instance, potassium deficiency can lead to depression, and some research suggests that certain so-called inflammatory foods may compromise attention span and even lower intelligence. The myth of the sedentary nerd who eats nothing but garbage is nothing more than a cultural trope. If you want to feed your mind, you have to feed your body.
2. The Role of Sleep
Sleep plays a key role in mental health, because REM sleep – the time during which you dream – helps you process the day's events, plan for tomorrow, and consolidate memory. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the body is exhausted due to lack of sleep, so too is the mind. Moreover, a host of physical health conditions, including chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, and osteoarthritis – can compromise your ability to sleep, thereby also undermining your mental health.
3. Muscle Aches and Pains
If you suffer from muscle pain and headaches, you might think injuries and poor physical health are to blame. Think again. Unexplained aches and pains are often the result of depression and anxiety. When your mental health is poor, you perceive pain as more severe than it is, and your immune system works more slowly to combat illness and injuries. Moreover, psychological pain can change the way you move, causing you to unconsciously tense your muscles. Over time, this can give rise to chronic pain, and even diagnosable injuries.
4. Relationships and Health
Relationships are much more than a source of comfort when you're down and out. Studies have shown that people with a strong social network live longer, feel happier, and experience fewer health problems. The connection doesn't end there, though. Some research suggests that simply entering a happy marriage can immediately yield positive health benefits. Married men live longer, and married women are less likely to develop cancer. If you think you can live a healthy life locked away in your home, you've been severely misguided. Start making connections with others and you may be surprised by how quickly you feel great.