The Connection Between Physical and Mental Health

by | Nov 1, 2023 | All

By Eric Nordquist, MA, LPC, NCC

I often say in the counseling office, “Physical health is half of mental health” because it’s true and those who are not caring for themselves physically are more vulnerable to mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Certain physical health conditions can actually be the BASIS of mental health problems. A low thyroid can make one tired and feel depressed; diabetes can create moodiness and depression as sugar levels drop below normal levels. 

Good health practices are at the heart of good mental health. Here are the essential physical things that impact it the most:

Sleep.  It’s important to receive the amount of sleep that you require to feel rested during the day. Chronic sleep impairment can age the brain faster than the biological age, make you feel drowsy during the day, cause physical problems down the road, and impact the quality of life. Not sleeping well for as little as 3 consecutive nights can create mood and anxiety symptoms, make one cognitively less sharp and impair short-term memory. Our bodies and brains rejuvenate during sleep.

Diet.  Eating enough fruits and vegetables is important for fiber, digestion, and overall nutrients. Sugar and carbohydrates are especially likely to create a sensation of depression. Some patients have found that cutting back on sugar has substantially reduced their amount of depression.

Exercise.  The type really doesn’t matter. There are many forms (swimming, jogging, walking, weightlifting, yoga, etc.) and they all improve mood and help with stress and anxiety. The best type for mental health, however, involves vigorous exercise (which means that your heart rate is elevated for 30-45 minutes). You don’t need to overdo it or get crazy with the intensity to have the benefits of exercise. Here are some benefits of regular exercise: Better physical and mental health, improved sleep quality and quantity, better focus and concentration, the release of toxins through the skin with sweating, and increased stamina and endurance throughout the day.

Most people’s biggest reason for not exercising is “I don’t have time”……… How does one find the time? Having a schedule is the best way to do consistent exercise. Build your schedule around these times. For instance, “Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons are my exercise times.” Here are some other suggestions for establishing an exercise routine:

Find something you like to do (or at least don’t mind doing). If you like to play tennis, then join a league.  If you enjoy swimming, buy a membership to a health club that has a pool.

Pack a gym bag at all times in your backseat. Some people do better going to the gym on their way home from work than trying to go back out after they arrive home from work.

Exercise in the best environment for YOU.  If you’re more likely to work out in a gym, join one. If you are better off working out alone in your basement or garage, buy some inexpensive equipment. There are thousands of exercise videos available online. Keep it simple to get started, you can add to your program later once you become consistent with the habit.

Combine exercise with your friend time. If you see a friend regularly, ask him/her to work out with you.   Some people would rather socialize while working out (or taking a class), while others do better alone.

Most importantly, GET STARTED. Don’t wait to “feel motivated” but rather get started – motivation builds as the activity begins. Focus on getting your workout started, the rest will be all downhill from there.

Happy health habits to you! 

Eric has 28 years of experience in the counseling field and 25 years at Perspectives Counseling Centers. He is an avid exerciser himself and often recommends it to his patients.  He is newly certified in ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy) which is a new therapy modality to resolve traumatic experiences/ flashbacks/ other emotional concerns in a short amount of time.  Eric has a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, so he’s especially equipped to work with clients who are on medication, are experiencing pain, or having physical problems impacting their mental health.

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