For years, doctors have believed there is a definite connection between mind and body. When people of means were ill, they took to the spas or seaside resorts. Today, doctors have discovered a very strong correlation between stress and health, but there are a number of ways physical health can affect your mental health as well.
Mental rest increases endurance. Researchers at Bangor University in Wales found that mental and physical fatigue are linked. Performing a mentally tiring task affected the subject's ability to complete a physically tiring one. Interestingly, the mental fatigue does not cause the heart or muscles to perform differently — it merely affects the subject's perception of the performance. Since the subject perceives the fatigue, he tires more quickly. The military has known this for years, as it incorporates mental endurance tests with its physical ones as part of its special forces training.
Good physical health reduces anxiety. There's an old saying that when you look good, you feel good, but it's also medically sound. Studies have shown that exercise can act as a mood enhancer, but exercise also seems to affect long-term mental health. In 2011, a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine showed that just six weeks of bicycling or weight training eased the symptoms of women suffering from anxiety disorder. Weight training also reduced feelings of irritability in the subjects.
Researchers who completed similar studies in mice using an exercise wheel found that letting them run when and as often as the mice wanted yielded the strongest reduction in the symptoms of anxiety. Moderate exercise appears to be all that's needed to reduce anxiety in humans as well.
Physical health problems exacerbate mental health issues: Many people struggling with physical health problems, such as heart disease, withdraw from social interaction and social situations. However, researchers have found that patients who were physically ill and struggling with mental health illnesses, such as depression, were twice as likely to avoid social interaction. Physical problems often interfere with the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of depression. It also colors the patient's view of his/her own physical illness (those suffering from depression often believe their recovery is not as good as it should be), making it more difficult to overcome.
Fitness enlarges the hippocampus. In another study out of the University of Illinois, researchers found that the size of one's hippocampus (the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system in your brain) was correlated with physical fitness. The more physically fit the subjects were the larger their hippocampus. The shrinking of the hippocampus occurs with age and affects cognitive functioning, such as spatial memory and retention. Staying physically fit may be a way to stave off some of the shrinkage.
Stress and breast cancer recurrence: Researchers have wondered for years why some people who take part in cancer-inducing behaviors never develop it, while others avoid these behaviors and contract the disease anyway. Stress may be part of their answer. In a 2008 study by the National Institute on Aging and National Cancer Institute of 94 women who had recurring breast or metastasized cancer, there was a significant correlation between those women who went cancer-free for the longest period and stress. Women who categorized themselves as having "no traumatic or stressful life events" achieved remission longer than women who admitted to having them, even early in life prior to the onset of the disease.
There is a strong correlation between physical wellness and mental wellness. Exercise affects the ability to handle anxiety and stress, and colors our views of how we're progressing during treatment of physical ailments. It is impossible to separate the mind from the body, and since our minds house our perception, we would be wise to treat them simultaneously.
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