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World Health Day: The link between physical and mental wellbeing

In this article, we explore the link between physical and mental health and provide recommendations for improving both of these simultaneously.

Runner improves his physical and mental health

People often think they need to deal with their physical and mental wellbeing separately, but they are both actually extremely closely related. Having good mental health can have a positive impact on your physical health and vice versa, helping you to give yourself the best chance of living happily and healthily. 

A concerning statistic is that more than 15 million people in the UK live with one or more long-term physical conditions, of which four million will also have mental health problems.

Unfortunately, a lot of people think that if you’re not visibly struggling with a mental health disorder then you don’t need to look after your mental health. However, this is not the case, and mental wellbeing is incredibly important if you want to lead a fulfilling life. Due to the link between physical and mental wellbeing, you can develop habits that will improve both.

Since today is World Health Day, we have put together this article about the importance of mental health and wellbeing, and how your physical health can have a major impact.

How are physical and mental wellbeing linked?

People with mental health problems are more likely to have physical health conditions. Similarly, those struggling with their physical health might find that it impacts their mental health. This is why the two are so closely linked and need to be treated as a pair if you want to achieve good overall wellbeing.

Your physical health could negatively impact your mental health for several reasons, including:

  • Genes that have been passed down through your family
  • Lack of motivation caused by a particular physical condition or medication
  • A poor support network that makes it difficult to break bad habits
  • Unreliable access to medical help.

Numerous studies have found that positive mental wellbeing can reduce the risks of heart disease, while poor mental health can cause harmful behaviours that impact you physically. Here, we look at some of those links more closely.

Please note: All of the links we discuss below are avoidable and developing these issues will likely only happen in extreme cases. While you should be aware of them, it’s unlikely you’ll ever experience these problems.

Chronic diseases

In extreme cases, depression, anxiety, and trauma can lead to chronic illnesses that can have serious effects on physical health. Some of those illnesses may include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. However, there are a lot of preventative measures someone can take before reaching this point and they’re unlikely to develop any of the above.

If someone already suffers from a chronic illness, then coping with it can be much more challenging if they don’t have the right mindset. If their mental wellbeing is poor, then they’re unlikely to have the motivation to stay healthy and address any challenges head-on.

Drinking and smoking

Unfortunately, in some cases, people turn to alcohol and cigarettes in order to cope with suffering. While this may provide a short-term fix, the long-term impacts can be hugely damaging and relying on substances to improve mental wellbeing is extremely ill-advised.

In some cases, temporary relief can lead to addiction, as people become reliant on that substance in order to improve their mood or forget about their problems. Both drinking and smoking excessively can have serious impacts on physical health.

Sleep problems

Statistically, people suffering with their mental health are likely to experience issues with their sleep. Conditions like depression and anxiety can sometimes lead to sleep disorders, which in turn will have a negative impact on physical health.

According to the Sleep Foundation, between 10% and 30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia and 30% to 48% of older adults experience insomnia. Worryingly, the same company suggests that 40% of people with insomnia are believed to also be impacted by a mental health disorder.

Poor diet

What someone eats can have a massive impact on not just physical health, but also mental wellbeing. Poor nutrition can lead to fatigue, bad decision-making, and volatile moods. If someone experiences these side effects, then it might lead to stress and anxiety.

This is why it’s incredibly important to eat a balanced diet and ensure you’re being as healthy as possible.

5 steps to improve physical and mental wellbeing

Achieving good overall mental health and wellbeing can be made easier by implementing some daily changes to your lifestyle. By sticking to the below, you should be able to enjoy physical and mental wellbeing.

1. Move your body more

Exercising is not only great for you physically, but it also helps to improve your mental wellbeing. This includes:

  • Raising your self-esteem and confidence
  • Releasing endorphins in the brain that help to positively influence your mood
  • Focusing the mind and helping you to deal with life’s daily challenges.

Moving your body can come in many forms, whether it’s going out for a run, playing a game of tennis, or embarking on a leisurely hike through the British countryside. Even just 30 minutes a day should make a difference and improve your mood.

2. Eat nutritious meals

A balanced, nutritious diet has a big impact on your physical health, wellbeing, and mood. As part of a balanced diet, you should be aiming to eat the right amount of proteins, vitamins, fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and essential fats, and also drink plenty of water. You should avoid processed sugars and fats as much as you can.

Eating the right food is a great preventative measure for developing physical health conditions, which ultimately will have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing, as you will feel and look healthier.

3. Communicate and connect with other people

While many of us like our own space, communication is important for all humans and social interactions are essential. Forming good relationships and having people to talk to can help to:

  • Avoid loneliness 
  • Build a sense of belonging
  • Share both positive and negative experiences
  • Offer emotional support in times of need.

Whether it’s family or friends, speaking to someone when you’re stressed or anxious can ease the burden you feel and help you to overcome challenging obstacles in life. 

Also, don’t be afraid to speak to a professional if you’re unable to cope with your physical or mental wellbeing. Family and friends aren’t professionally trained, so there will be times when you need to confide in someone that is.

In terms of your physical health, exercising and eating healthily can be easier to stick to if you have someone to do it with. This can often motivate you to keep persisting with something when self-doubt creeps in.

4. Learn new skills and find hobbies

Research indicates that learning new skills can improve your mental wellbeing by boosting self-confidence and helping you to regain a sense of purpose. Learning new skills is always a good way of keeping things fresh and often leads to meeting new people. 

The same applies to finding new hobbies. Sometimes it’s good to be thrown outside of your comfort zone, as it forces you to focus on new things and acts as a distraction. A new hobby may be just what you’re after if you’re suffering from mental health problems. Plus, if it involves exercise, then this ticks both wellbeing boxes.

Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises can also help enormously.

5. Improve your sleeping habits

Getting enough sleep can often be overlooked, but it’s very important for good physical health and mental wellbeing. Typically, the optimal amount of sleep for an adult is seven to nine hours sleep. A short 10 to 20-minute nap in the afternoon shouldn’t be discouraged either if you’re feeling low on energy.

It’s well documented that mental health problems can lead to irregular sleeping patterns, but poor sleep can also negatively impact your mental health if you don’t get a sufficient amount. 

Try to get in a good bedtime routine and properly wind down before you attempt to go to sleep. Ensuring all of your devices are switched off a good hour before bed can help dramatically.

Physical and mental wellbeing courses: further learning

Prioritising your mental health and wellbeing shouldn’t be a ‘nice to do’, it should be a necessity. The link between physical and mental wellbeing is clear, which is why you should take both aspects seriously.

At FutureLearn, we provide a variety of different mental health courses to help you in your journey to improved wellbeing. If you need some additional support and would benefit from this type of learning, then these courses are definitely worth exploring further.

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