Maintaining both your physical and mental health is essential for long-term wellbeing—but the two are often talked about as separate entities. In reality, though, the mind and the body are closely linked, each affecting the other greatly. That relationship can either be positive or negative, depending on your individual circumstances. In this article, we’re diving into some of the most important aspects of the mental-physical health relationship—and what this means for you.
How do Depression & Anxiety Affect Physical Health?
Did you know that depression affects more than 16 million American adults? And anxiety is even more common, affecting a whopping 18.1% of the U.S. population. These two mental illnesses are actually closely linked; almost half of those diagnosed with depression also deal with an anxiety disorder. And they both can have vast effects on physical health, from exacerbating existing conditions to weakening the immune system and heart health.
This has big implications for the physical health of the American population, especially for older adults. Scientists who study psychoneuroimmunology—the study of the effect that the mind has on physical health and the immune system—have found that both acute and chronic stress can actually weaken the immune system, depleting infection-fighting T-cells and stopping production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon. This is important information for anyone, but it’s especially essential for seniors to consider, as aging already has a negative effect on the immune system.
The implications for heart health are just as strong. One study by the University of Sydney found that:
- The risk of heart attack is eight and a half times higher within the two hours after an intense burst of anger, and
- High anxiety levels were correlated with a nine-and-a-half-fold increase in risk for a heart attack being triggered after an anxiety episode
The bottom line? Acute emotional triggers can increase risk of heart attack. For older adults—especially those with congestive heart failure (CHF)—this link is essential to keep in mind. Reducing stress and anxiety really can improve your heart health!
Why Staying Active is Essential
If you’re trying to build a stronger immune system, reduce your risk of heart attack, and improve your overall health in general, exercising regularly is one of the best ways to do it. Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression levels both immediately after an exercise session and long-term. And since we know anxiety and depression are correlated with immune suppression and higher risk of heart attack, it only makes sense that prioritizing your workouts every day is a step in the right direction. Those who practice “rhythmic, aerobic exercise using large muscle groups” (e.g., walking, swimming, cycling, and jogging) for 15-30 minutes at least three times a week will see the biggest benefits.
The Smoker’s Paradox
Let’s talk about smoking, because it’s the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and it’s a habit that depends heavily on the mental-physical connection. More than 32 million Americans smoke cigarettes—about 14% of which are seniors over the age of 65. We all know that smoking can lead to a host of physical illnesses—including cancer, heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, and chronic bronchitis, to name a few—but we also know that smoking is an infamously difficult habit to kick.
Let’s consider why. Lots of people who smoke do so to relieve stress and depression—in fact, both nicotine and the actual habit of picking up a cigarette in the first place have been shown to spike dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter of which low levels have been correlated with depression. The brain starts to associate that cigarette as a pick-me-up thanks to the increased dopamine, forming a habit that feels good mentally in the short term despite the long-term physical health effects. The paradox? It feels both good and bad, pointing to the importance of considering the mind-body connection in making healthy choices.
Tips to Improve Both Mental & Physical Health
Physical and mental health have an undeniable relationship—but it’s up to you to make it a positive one instead of a negative one. Here are a few tips to help make that happen:
- Exercise regularly to reduce depression and anxiety
- Make sure to get enough sleep every night
- Get outside to combat depression
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet as much as possible
- Don’t hesitate to talk with a therapist
Safe, Same-Day Healthcare Delivery
If you’re not feeling well enough (mentally OR physically!) to leave the house to get the medical attention you need, don’t worry; DispatchHealth has your back. We offer convenient, same-day medical care within the comfort of your own home, making it easier than ever to receive the treatment you need without any of the hassle. Simply give us a call, download our app, or request a visit on our website to get the care you need on your doorstep within a couple of hours!
DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.
Sources referenced in this article: