People with mental illness have heard it all before. Trying to work out. Clean your room. Eat healthy. Smile more. It all sounds like empty platitudes coming from the wrong people.
But probably the most frustrating part of all of that advice is that it is all true. There is a strong tie between how physically healthy you are and how mentally stable you are. The misrepresentation of this fact is prevalent, as there is no workout routine that cures depression.
Today, we are going to go over some of the ways your physical wellbeing is tied to your mental health. There are 7 things you need to know and keep track of to stay healthy.
All too often people think of their bodies as being static things. But you are not some stone statue. You are constantly in motion, inside and out, just because of the many chemical reactions going on that keep you alive. Understanding this is key to being healthy.
Just about any organ or system you can think of has layers of complexity to it. Your skin, for example, is being constantly grown, aging, and dying. Same with your hair. Even the cells of your eyes and bones are different from what they were when you were born.
We are choosing to lead with this note because it becomes relevant in every point.
Many people dissuade themselves from exercising because they think there is no point if they are not going to take it to its logical extreme. “Why run? I’ll never be a professional runner.”
This line of thinking is hyper-focused on just one reason people run. But running (and, in fact, all exercise) has tons of other benefits besides making you a better runner. It helps process the chemicals that create stress reactions in your body and releases the chemicals of happiness.
While we are on the topic, let’s talk about “runner’s high”. You might have heard of this as a rush of positive feeling that some runners experience. As with the benefits of running, this can be seen across almost all physical activity. But what if you have never experienced it?
Well, that is actually pretty common. Runner’s high comes from a rush of dopamine, which is a chemical heavily associated with the feeling of happiness. But most of the time, the amount of dopamine released by a physical activity is not large enough for you to feel it that much.
Just because you can’t feel it does not mean it’s not there, however. Dopamine is making you happier just by being in your system, even if it does not make you elated.
It has become a common talking point and marketing scheme for foods to advertise their benefits to the “gut biome”. The gut biome is the ecosystem of bacteria that lives in your stomach. They colonize you and help consume food your body can’t process naturally.
There is a surprisingly strong correlation between mental health and one’s gut biome. Certain foods will stimulate the growth of certain bacteria. Eating a lot of sugar or drinking a lot of soda, for instance, will lead to the growth of gut bacteria that consume sugar.
The most interesting part is that a change in diet can have its own chemical reaction. Part of the reason people instinctively want to have a variety of foods is because they are unconsciously aware of the fact that varied foods mean better healthy. This is a product of the gut bacteria.
One of the most dominant elements of your physical health is the sleep you are getting. If you are getting little to no sleep, or if you are a restless sleeper, then you will be less healthy.
“Less healthy” would be an overly broad description in most cases. In the case of sleep, however, it is actually pretty accurate. The sleep cycle allows muscles to heal, the brain to rest, and the body to burn energy more efficiently. Those are all pretty important jobs for the body.
Constant drowsiness and fatigue will lead to bad moods and negative thinking constantly.
Up until now we have talked about how your physical body affects your mental health. But your mental health can affect your body right back. Your blood pressure can increase, your insulin resistance can rise, and your muscles can fail to develop.
This makes it easy to fall into a slow spiral as your body deteriorates due to your low mood, which lowers your mood even more.
The thing about being a human being with a human body is that your body evolved to get out of that spiral. We are complex organisms. Therefor, we have developed easy ways of getting the mood-boosting chemicals we need to survive. And of course, that means moving your body.
But that does not just mean working out. It also means going outside and smelling fresh air. It means smiling even if you don’t have a reason to. It means eating well—and it even means eating food that you like despite it not being good for you (in moderation, of course).
If you are feeling like your mental health is bringing down your physical health, then do not hesitate to seek help. There are a lot of ways to get out of that “downward spiral” we mentioned but remember that you do not have to do it alone.
The relationship between the mind and the body is complex. It is impossible to account for all the little optimizations you can make to the system. But try your best, work out, and eat healthy. If you don’t do at least that, then you are not giving yourself a chance.
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