Mental Health Month: The Mind Body Connection

How physical habits can contribute to maintaining your mental health

Mental health is often thought of as an invisible condition because many people do not think you can see it like you can physical problems with the body, like a broken bone or strep throat. But mental health and the body are interconnected. The condition of your physical body can influence your mental health and your mental health can affect the state of your body. In some cultures mental health conditions manifest as physical symptoms in the body. For example, in a Chinese sample of depression it was found that participants experience depression symptoms as tiredness, struggle sleeping, lack of energy and concentrating as opposed to the U.S. sample that experienced depression through their cognitive or emotional mood (Pogosyan, 2017). Recognizing this connection between the mind and the body can help us understand how positive physical habits can contribute to us maintaining our mental health. Here are some of the particular benefits sleep, nutrition, and exercise can have on mental health.

Sleep: Getting insufficient sleep can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health (Harvard Medical School, 2021). Sleep is the time when our brain is able to process the stress we experience during the day. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night, and eight to ten hours for every 24 hours for teenagers (CDC, 2022). Setting a consistent sleep schedule can help make it easier to get enough sleep.

Nutrition: Having a healthy diet also contributes to mental health in addition to physical health. A study found that the better quality diet pre-adolescent children had, the more positive their mental health was (Dimov et al., 2021). Some steps that contribute to a healthy diet are eating several servings of fruits and vegetables each day, limiting sugar intake, and drinking lots of want. A way to help determine how much water you should drink in a day is taking your body weight and pounds and dividing it in half. That number in ounces is the amount of water you should be drinking each day. So if you weigh 150 lbs then you should drink 75 oz of water (about nine and a half cups) each day.

Exercising: Not only does exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, help the body process stress and release serotonin and other endorphins that contribute to a feeling of happiness and wellbeing, but consistent exercise has been linked to an increased ability to deal with stressful situations (Perchtold et al., 2020). If you are not able to get to a gym everyday then simple activities like walking or climbing stairs can help you keep your body active.

Change can take time, so if it feels overwhelming to take on all these at once, start by picking one category and practice improving it during the week. Over time you can incorporate the other steps, or discover new ways that work for you to care for your body, and in so doing, benefit your mental health.

CDC (2022,  April 8). Are you getting enough sleep? Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dimov, S., Mundy, L. K., Bayer, J. K., Jacka, F. N., Canterford, L., & Patton, G. C. (2021). Diet quality and mental health problems in late childhood. Nutritional Neuroscience, 24(1), 62–70.
Harvard Medical School (2021, August 17). Sleep and mental health. Harvard Health Publishing. #:~:text=The%20brain%20basis%20of%20a%20mutual%20relationship%20between,the%20stage%20for%20negative%20thinking%20and%20emotional%20vulnerability.
Pogosyan, M. (2017, December 6). How culture affects depression: Insight into culture’s multifaceted influence on depression. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday. com/us/blog/between-cultures/201712/how-culture-affects-depression
Perchtold, S. C. M., Fink, A., Rominger, C., Weiss, E. M., & Papousek, I. (2020). More habitual physical activity is linked to the use of specific, more adaptive cognitive reappraisal strategies in dealing with stressful events. Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 36(3), 274–286. https://doi-org/10.1002/smi.2929