You may have heard the phrase, "Where the mind goes, the body follows." Studies prove our emotions, feelings, and beliefs are directly connected to our physical health. And how we care for our bodies – what we eat or how much we exercise – in turn affects our mental health. Understanding how exercise impacts mental health can help you care for both aspects of your health.
Mind-body connection facts
People with mental health concerns have a greater risk of becoming physically sick.
- Those with chronic medical conditions are more likely to experience mental health problems.
- Depression and anxiety have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Stress can negatively affect the gut, heart, brain, and immune system.
These connections are especially important now, with symptoms of depression up this year. A study found 27.8 percent of U.S. adults reported some depression symptoms during the current pandemic. This has increased from only 8.5 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news is that improving your mind-body relationship can positively impact your overall health.
Exercise is medicine
Increasing physical activity can help your mood, digestion, and sleep.
Start with small bouts of exercise each day. Carve out time to follow a video on yoga or strength training, or meet a friend for a socially distant walk. While it can feel hard to get going, remind yourself you will feel better afterwards.
You will also stay motivated to move more.
In fact, 30 minutes of exercise a day, three to five days a week, can help depression and anxiety symptoms as much as taking an antidepressant.
UniCare members can receive reimbursement for up to $100 per family on their membership at a fitness club (or $100 per enrollee for UniCare Medicare Extension members). Use our fitness club reimbursement form to request your reimbursement.
You are what you eat
Your body is not the only thing burning calories. Almost 20 percent of your calorie intake goes to fueling your brain, so there is truth to the term "brainpower."
When you are stressed and need energy, it can be convenient to grab a handful of chips or a cookie. But sugary, fatty, or processed treats only improve your mood temporarily.
Instead, choose foods that boost both brain and body health:
- Fatty fish – wild salmon, mackerel, or sardines
- Berries – strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries
- Nuts and seeds – pumpkin seeds (especially sprouted), sunflower seeds, almonds, or walnuts
- Leafy greens – kale, spinach, or broccoli
Get some zzzzs
Sleep restores your body and brain. Mental health conditions are often tied to a lack of sleep, so do not underestimate the power of a good night of rest.
You might try creating a bedtime routine by going to sleep at the same time each night. Strive for around seven to nine hours of quality sleep. Other good habits include setting your bedroom at a cool temperature and turning off electronic devices. A few minutes of deep breathing or meditation can help you relax.
Social support and connection
People who interact regularly with others (including animals) recover faster from illness and are sick less often. If you are feeling down, reach out to a trusted companion. A good laugh or heart-to-heart conversation is healing for both mind and body.
If you are concerned about a physical or mental health issue, talking with a professional can help. Telehealth services are a convenient way to connect with a doctor or mental health counselor online, without leaving home.
Another source of support resources is your Mass4you employee assistance program (EAP) – available to Basic, PLUS and Community Choice members.
By caring for the health of your body and mind each day, you will reap both physical and emotional rewards.