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Physical Health & Mental Health Linked, Experts Say

The link between mental health and physical health is clear. Experts explain why this is true, and share tips to help you build habits to improve your health.

Dr. Jason Wersland
Founder at Theragun

I am a chiropractor by training who many years ago, as the result of a motorcycle accident, suffered from debilitating neck pain. I took my health and wellbeing into my own hands because I was not getting the results and the relief I needed from treatment and traditional therapy alone, so I created a device that solved my pain issues. When it became clear that it was working for others and even in ways I didn’t expect, I realized I had stumbled onto something bigger than I knew: Theragun was invented.

That was over then years ago. In 2016 we launched Theragun as a company. We are the original handheld percussive therapy device and today in 2019, we are the go-to recovery device for over 250 teams and are selling our products in over 50 countries.

There is little doubt that physical health affects our mental states and vice versa. Debilitating pain can lead to depression and can prevent us from partaking in many of the joys of life. Anxiety can lead to muscle tension and can drain our energy. If we can take care of ourselves physically, we can perhaps ease many of the burdens that come with mental health issues. Exercise can help us ensure our bodies are producing the right levels of hormones that help regulate our mental states.

Our mission at Theragun is to help people reconnect with their bodies. Our devices literally put recovery and pain relief in the hands of those who use it. We’ve had many folks write into us how they have been able to reclaim their lives using Theragun.

Advice from Dr. Jason:

Start with something small and do it every day. Go for walks, do some pushups or squats. You can exercise where ever you are, without equipment or a gym membership. Take one thing that you know is bad for your diet and remove it: soda, donuts, creamer in your coffee, etc.  Try to think of the choices you make about your health as gifts you give yourself. Are you choosing your health or are you actively making a choice to harm your health? Just like we brush our teeth every day, physical health is like hygiene, if we want to keep it, we have to tend to it.

Dr. Carole Lieberman, M.D.
Psychiatrist, TV personality, radio and author.

My passion is helping people create healthier lives so they can follow their dreams, despite living in these stressful times.

My latest award-winning book, Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror, helps families build resilience so that they can do just that.

Physical and mental health are constantly affecting each other in positive and negative ways. It’s easy to understand how physical problems, like a broken arm, can make life tougher and more stressful for you. But, it works the other way, too. Stress can cause everything from colds to cancer, and headaches to heart attacks.
Similarly, when you feel depressed, you don’t take good care of your body. And if you feel physical pain, it makes you depressed.

Advice from Dr. Carole:

If you want to be healthier physically, it’s not enough to go to the gym, eat nutritious food and take vitamins. You have to find ways to make your life less stressful and happier, too. The better your mood, the more likely you are to stick to a routine that builds your physical health, whereas if you’re feeling down, it’s easier to give up before you get to where you want to be. So, build your happiness muscles, too.

Dr. Brian Distelberg, PhD, MA.
Director of Research at Loma Linda University Health’s Behavioral Medicine Center

Bottom line: our heads are connected to our bodies. Mental health and physical health are interdependent — which means they can’t be completely separated. Those in the health field are beginning to realize that the two need to be treated together. The treatment of one without the other is not only less effective, but the sustainability of the treatment is reduced.

Mental illness can lead to a physical condition and vice versa. Many mental health issues are rooted in stress on a very basic level. When someone has a mental health issue, their stress responses become more frequent and pronounced. This process of frequently releasing stress chemicals into the body can become toxic and greatly exacerbate current physical issues.

Advice from Dr. Distelberg:

People should be aware of quality of life as something directly impacted by someone’s mental health suffering. It can be a significant indicator if someone would benefit from mental health services.

Dr. Linda F. Williams, DSW
Executive coach, Psychotherapist, Emotional Intelligence Consultant.

[I have] experienced the effects of mental versus physical health repercussions of trauma from sexual assault and abuse.

Medical paradigms are finally shifting to recognize that the interrelationship between physical and mental health is cyclical. In other words, mental health affects physical health and physical health affects mental health. The etiological progressions are not static and they are sometimes unpredictable.

The danger is that an underlying predisposition for disease can be triggered as the physical body takes the brunt of the stress and anxiety that are perpetuated by mental health challenges. It took me decades to realize that I am depression-prone. I learned that trauma-related stress was triggered by certain life situations. I had no clue that the sleeplessness, confusion, inability to focus, and rollercoaster emotional upheaval were signs of depression. By the time I got a clue about it, I was in deep trouble. The result was massive weight loss, reduced levels of energy, and insomnia.

Advice from Dr. Williams:

Initiate a two-pronged approach to wellness. Every single day make your emotional wellbeing and physical health non-negotiable aspects of your life. Schedule it. Schedule other obligations around it, maintain a take-no-prisoners approach to protecting it.

Do one thing every single day to nurture your mental health and then to maintain your physical health.

Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT
Dance Therapist, Clinical Counselor

The body and mind are connected. Often the body holds answers to questions the mind doesn’t even know to ask. Our moods can influence our movement and vice versa.

Advice from Erica:

I advise people to pay more attention to how their mental state impacts their movement (posture, gesture, breath, etc.) We can bring awareness to our physical body to enhance and support our emotional health.

Amber Nash, FitHealthyBest
Certified Group Fitness Instructor

While it has long been known that exercise or walking can boost your mood, new research is proving that strength training can actually reverse depression.

Strength training boosts your mood while you’re actually doing it and long after your workout. Why?

Researchers think there are several reasons why strength training has such a drastic effect on mood. For one, practicing resistance training is a form of meditation — you must focus on the repetitive movement and concentrate on your form which can help you enter into a meditative state. Next, all exercise produces mood-enhancing chemicals like serotonin, but resistance training is different because it is thought to ‘wake up’ certain genes in our muscle fibers that can improve mood — these pathways may have become dormant as we age if we haven’t been strength training.

More so, resistance training has shown to increase people’s overall self-confidence and sense of calm, which may be because they feel they are accomplishing something or reaching a goal when they lift weights. In addition, research has shown that the fatigue caused by muscle breakdown greatly improves the quality of people’s sleep, which in turn improves their mood. And these are just a handful of the ways that resistance training can boost your mood.

Advice from Amber:

Even better, beginner weight lifters can practice bodyweight exercises almost anywhere and start immediately. Start with bodyweight squats, lunges, wall sits, calf raises, push-ups, and planks. From there, try investing in a set of inexpensive resistance bands or dumbbells and repeat these moves with weights.

With strength training, there is no need to overdo it — consistency matters most! By making it a habit to lift or strength train 2-3 times a week — even for just 15 minutes — you should see a great improvement in your mental health in just weeks.

In addition, an easy way to stay motivated is to surround yourself with strength training information — listening to a health podcast or following a personal trainer on Instagram can keep your mind on your health and push you to stick with it.

Links to studies:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190207111309.htm
https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/strengthen-your-mood-with-weight-training
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2680311
https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/full/10.1139/apnm-2018-0675#.XNrYMtNKjOS

Sarah Thacker
NYC Therapist, Health Coach and Yoga Instructor

I find that there is no separation between mind and body, they are one intimately interconnected element of our being. In my work I offer an integrative approach to overall wellbeing, mind, body and spirit.

When you experience an emotion, which you may think of as a mental experience, you actually feel it within your body. Consider anxiety for example. An anxious thought accompanies an increase in your heart rate, potentially nausea or butterflies in your stomach and maybe a flushing of your skin.

Physical activity has been proven to improve mood by increasing production of endorphins. When you engage in a “mind-body” practice such as yoga and/or meditation, you create a direct experience of how the mind and body are interconnected and not at all separate, but one singular entity.

When you bring your attention to your breath, your body and intentionally relax it, you create an opportunity to shift your mood, your energy as well as your experience of the present moment. When you focus on the mind-body connection you experience how they are truly one and the same.

Advice from Sarah:

The foundations of wellness are nutrition, intentional relaxation, sleep and movement. If you want to begin creating greater physical health and yet have no idea where to start, pick one of these areas of wellness that seems the least overwhelming. Then determine one thing you could change in your life in that one area. If you start with nutrition, you might choose to add in one to two servings of vegetables per day.

This is a great place to start. If you wanted to begin with intentional relaxation, you could download a meditation app such as Insight Timer and begin with a five-minute guided practice for stress relief.

Once you’ve added in your one new element and that simple change has become fully integrated into your life, meaning you no longer have to think about it, add in one new simple change within the next area of wellness.

If you continue, before you know it, you will create amazing and lasting changing to your overall health and wellbeing.


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