The mind and the body are often more connected than people might realize. They are able to impact one another in both positive and negative ways depending on a variety of factors. This February for American Heart Month, we’re exploring the mind-body connection and providing you with practical tips to have a healthy heart and a healthy mind.
Understanding the Mind-Body Connection
You might have heard of the mind-body connection before, but what does this really mean? Scientists have found an incredible connection between our mental and physical health which indicates that we might have more power over our bodies than we think. Research has shown that our psychological health can have a huge influence on things like heart health, risk of stroke, and other conditions that were previously attributed to external forces.
One of the biggest mental health matters that can lead to physical symptoms is stress. Chronic stress can do more than just give you a headache or a long to-do list. In fact, people who experience chronic stress have been associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing or dying from heart disease. Luckily, there are a lot of steps you can take to improve your mental health, which in turn, can help you have a healthier body.
How Does Mental Health Affect Longevity?
Mental health can influence a person’s symptoms in the short-term but long-standing, unaddressed mental health issues can also have an impact on a person’s longevity. Many studies have shown that individuals who suffer from mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression are often expected to live shorter lives. Oftentimes, this is related to cardiovascular issues that develop over long periods of time. So, what can you do to extend your lifespan and increase your mental health?
How to Boost Your Mental and Physical Health
Since the mind and body are so interrelated, anything you do to help one side will have positive effects on the other. Some of the best strategies for improving your mental health start with physical actions:
Exercise: getting enough exercise each week helps to boost your body’s ability to fight off illness while also releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of exercise in each week, usually broken up into five half-hour sessions. This can be anything from walking to lifting weights to jumping on the bike.
Diet: how you eat does more than just fuel your body; it also fuels your mind. Be sure that you are providing your brain with the nutrients it needs to function at full capacity. That means cutting back on processed foods and avoiding alcohol.
Smoking: oftentimes, people will turn to smoking and other substances to handle difficult situations or complicated emotions. While these quick-fixes may appear to relieve symptoms in the moment, the reality is that they weaken your body and have a negative effect on your mind, perpetuating the cycle of needing to seek out relief. Instead, try relaxation techniques or exercise when the urge to smoke hits.
Sleep: when you sleep, both your brain and your body get time to recover. Without sleep, it’s like running a car on fumes. A routine lack of sleep can lead to increased risk of illness and mental health difficulties since you are never taking the time to refill your cup. Emphasize the important role that sleep can play on your mental and physical wellbeing and be sure to get at least 7-8 hours of quality rest each night.
The Power of Positivity
Regardless of what you’re dealing with, having a positive outlook can bring you plenty of mental and physical benefits. Researchers have found that people who approach difficult situations with optimism and positivity may see a correlation with vascular health and even a decrease in the rate of disease progression. It’s important to note, however, that positivity is not the same thing as the absence of negativity. To reap the rewards of an optimistic mindset, you have to be active with your positivity and mindfulness. A couple of ways you can practice this is through gratitude and mindfulness exercises.
Gratitude: practicing gratitude is a great way to balance out your emotions during tough times. No matter how bad the situation is, there is always something you can be grateful for. You can record your feelings of gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal or writing letters to friends. Gratitude is also a great tool because the more often you use it, the easier it becomes, therefore making you feel happier more frequently.
Mindfulness: as we’ve seen, our minds can have a serious impact when it comes to the way our bodies feel. Mindfulness is a tool that helps to lasso out of control thoughts or feelings which can hurt our bodies and help to keep them in check. Some ways to practice mindfulness include meditation, tai qi, and even breathing techniques, all of which help to slow our thoughts and reconnect us with our bodies.
The heart and the mind are inseparable, so to have a healthy heart, you need to have a healthy mind. If you’re dealing with mental health issues or you’re having difficulty finding positives in your life, therapy is a great option to help you regain your mental and physical wellness. The clinicians at Jefferson Center are experienced with a variety of mental health concerns and can get you back on the road to feeling like your best self. Check out our services and be sure to look at our upcoming classes and events to see if there’s something that will help you have a healthy heart and a healthy mind.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.