Have you ever felt stressed or anxious and then gone to the gym or gone for a walk and felt better? Whether it’s walking, lifting weights, yoga, or anything in between, doing something physical can help tremendously with our mental health. The question is, just how much does our physical and mental health help each other? 

First, let’s take a look at the effects of mental health on physical health. Our mental health plays a huge role in our general well-being. Studies have shown that positive psychological well-being can reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, poor mental health can lead to poor physical health. Many chronic diseases can stem from poor mental health and depression such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and arthritis. Mental health conditions can also make dealing with a chronic illness more difficult. The mortality rate from cancer and heart disease is higher among people with depression or other mental health conditions. Sleep problems, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, are another huge issue among people that suffer with mental health problems. Around 50-80% of people with mental health conditions have sleeping problems compared to 10-18% people without mental health conditions having sleeping problems. Smoking is another common thing among people with mental health conditions. People with mental health conditions are more likely to smoke than those who do not have mental health conditions. For example, people with depression have lower levels of dopamine which influences positive feelings in the brain. The nicotine in cigarettes triggers the production of dopamine, so smoking may be used as a way to relieve symptoms of depression. Finally, people with mental health conditions are less likely to have access to adequate health care and it may be harder for people to take care of their physical health by seeking care, taking prescriptions regularly, or getting enough exercise. 

Next, let’s take a look at physical conditions that may affect mental health. One example is Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a dermatological condition characterized by painful red sores on the skin. It is associated with acute stress and depression .People with psoriasis experience emotional and psychological distress that negatively impacts their overall health and quality of life. Stress and depression mainly come from anxiety, stigma, and rejection. A couple other examples are cancer and heart attacks. Being diagnosed with cancer or having a heart attack can also lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Around one-third of people with serious medical conditions will have symptoms of depression, such as low mood, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in activities. Some ways to take care of our physical and mental health include, getting regular exercise (can help improve energy and mood), eating a proper diet (a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed sugars or fats can make you feel better physically and mentally), avoiding alcohol and drugs, getting enough sleep (a good night’s sleep is around seven to nine hours for adults), trying relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing, developing good mental practices, and seeking help from others when needed. 

Finally, I am going to talk a little bit about the benefits of yoga on mental and physical health. According to Dr. Natalie Nevins, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor in Hollywood, California, “The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome, and can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.” Other physical benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, increased muscle strength and tone, improved respiration, energy and vitality, maintaining a balanced metabolism, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, improved athletic performance, and protection from injury. Now onto the mental benefits of yoga. One of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. “Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.”  Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s mental well-being. According to Dr. Nevins,“Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration.” Body- and self-awareness are particularly beneficial, she adds, “because they can help with early detection of physical problems and allow for early preventive action.” 


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