You might know that your brain and body are connected, however it’s important to also know that the health of one directly affects the health of the other. 

If you have poor mental health from stress or depression, your body’s physical health will be affected because you will be less likely to exercise and more likely to turn to junk food and poor eating habits such as binge eating. 

Similarly, if you are dealing with physical symptoms from autoimmune disease such as chronic pain, digestive issues, or constant fatigue you’re less likely to be active.1 That can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety because your body is overloaded with the hormones cortisol and adrenaline and not releasing enough of the “feel good” hormone serotonin or “happy chemicals” endorphins. I’ll review this in more depth later.

Not everyone thinks this way. Conventional medicine does not connect your mental health to your physical health, treating symptoms rather than looking at the whole body to get to the root cause of your condition. In functional medicine of course we consider the whole person – physically and mentally. When considering optimal health, your mental health and physical health should not be thought of as separate. 

I will tell you more about how your mental health and physical health are connected and give you tips on how to achieve optimal mental and physical health. Let’s start by discussing what affects your ability to  reach optimal mental and physical health. 

Lifestyle Factors to Your Mental and Physical Health

Genetics often get blamed for mental health and physical health issues. While your genetic makeup does play a role in your risk for developing chronic health conditions, circumstances that you can control have a greater impact. Let’s talk about these factors and the steps you can take to ensure an optimal mental and physical health connection. 

Diet

Food can be a key contributor of poor physical health, and especially poor mental health! Let me explain. 

The Standard American Diet, appropriately abbreviated SAD, is one of the worst choices for a healthy diet. Unfortunately, it happens to be the way most Americans (and many people worldwide) choose to eat. It is full of processed and inflammatory foods, and typically high in sodium, trans fats, refined sugars and lacks important omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins.2

Certain foods and vitamin deficiencies affect your brain function. For example, alcohol and caffeine exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety and stress. Also, foods high in MSG, found in fast food and many processed foods that make up nearly ¾ of the food on the SAD diet leads to brain fog, as well as other health issues such as leaky gut and autoimmunity

Vitamin deficiencies, particularly a vitamin B12 deficiency, can cause brain fog symptoms and lead to depression and anxiety. Vitamin B12 supports nervous system function and healthy red blood cell production. People with B12 deficiency are more likely to score lower on cognitive tests and have a smaller brain volume than those with optimal B12 levels.3

Food sensitivities can also be the culprit of many physical symptoms even if you are eating a healthy diet, including the AIP diet. While there are some usual suspects, such as gluten and dairy, you can develop an intolerance to a number of less common trigger foods. Following an elimination diet can help you pinpoint exactly which foods are causing you problems. 

For optimal physical health and mental health, I recommend eating a diet full of nutrient-rich foods such as organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, wild-caught seafood, and cage-free chicken.

Chronic Stress

It’s obvious that stress is directly linked to your mental health, however it’s equally linked to your physical health! Stress isn’t just a feeling. It’s an actual release of hormones that your body produces when it’s met with a challenge. The number one stress hormone is cortisol. 

Think of the hormone cortisol like a chemical messenger. When you’re in a stressful situation, cortisol tells your immune system to gear up for a challenge. Your immune system responds by producing inflammation, and then cortisol signals your immune system to calm down when the danger has passed.

This system works really well when you encounter acute stress that happens suddenly and then passes. But too many of us are dealing with chronic stress: constant sleep deprivation, poor diets, long hours at work, problems in our relationships, the list goes on and on. When you have constant stressors in your life, your immune system never really gets to turn off. Your inflammatory immune response is activated for too long and eventually goes rogue, attacking your own bodily tissues. Pretty soon, your stress hormones try to suppress the response but go overboard, leaving you with a weakened immune system. 

This begins a vicious cycle where the infection becomes active, it destroys tissue and provokes an even greater immune response, your body releases cortisol to calm it down, which triggers more infection, and so on. 

Relieving your stress is the fourth pillar of The Myers Way®, and for good reason. Understanding where your stress is coming from and taking the steps to relieve it naturally can balance the mental health and physical health connection. 

Activity Level

Just as stress is often first associated with mental health, your activity level is typically associated with your physical health before your mental health. However, exercise has just an equal importance in your mental health. 

You’ve likely been told that a sedentary lifestyle puts you at higher risk of  heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and even autoimmunity. The physical benefits of exercise such as better sleep, weight loss, and stronger muscles are just the tip of the iceberg for your physical health.  

There is a direct link to exercise and it’s role in your mood. Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression just as effectively as harsh antidepressant medication. It’s also been found to have a positive effect on anxiety, stress, memory, and hyperactivity.4 Do you know why?

When you exercise, your nervous system releases chemicals called endorphins. In fact, the word endorphin comes from the words “endogenous,” which means “from the body,” and “morphine,” which is an opioid pain reliever. 

Endorphins are your body’s natural response to relieve stress and pain and work similarly as opioid medications.5 Endorphins are released by the pituitary gland in high levels. When you do lengthy exercise, endorphins create a euphoric feeling in your body, which makes you happy! 

Exercise isn’t the only way to stimulate your body to release endorphins. Volunteering, yoga, eating dark chocolate, and laughing sends a signal to your body to release these happy chemicals! Who doesn’t like eating chocolate or laughing?

Hormones and Your Mental and Physical Health

Now that you understand how diet, physical activity and stress can affect your mental health and physical health, let’s discuss how your hormones factor into your mental and physical health, especially three key hormones – cortisol, adrenaline, and serotonin. 

Your body produces nearly 50 hormones that impact every part of your existence.  Growth, metabolism, mood, temperature, heart rate, sleep, sexuality—all are governed by these chemical messengers. While all of your hormones are important, there are a few that serve critical roles in your mental and physical health connection. 

Cortisol

I mentioned cortisol earlier and how it relates to stress. After all, it’s called “the stress hormone.” The main function of this hormone produced by the adrenal gland is just that—to respond to stress. However, cortisol also plays a role in controlling inflammation and regulating blood flow. In danger mode, the adrenal gland boosts production which increases heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and overall inflammation. Nearly all of your cells have cortisol receptors, so in times of high alert, cortisol can shut down processes such as digestion. 

Learning to manage stress through a variety of techniques such as meditation, exercise, or socializing is a great way to help manage cortisol. I’ll discuss more ways you can balance your mental health and physical health connection in just a minute. 

Adrenaline

Adrenaline, like cortisol, is secreted in the adrenal glands and also in some neurons of the central nervous system.  It is derived from the amino acid L-tyrosine.6 Adrenaline helps you think and act fast in response to danger by sending extra blood to your heart and large muscles, as well as blocking pain. These intense effects can last up to an hour.

Small amounts of stress are necessary, however when your adrenals are constantly being signaled by your brain to produce stress hormones, this is incredibly unhealthy for your mental health and physical health. When your adrenal glands go into overdrive, it affects your mood, sleep, libido, immune system, blood sugar, appetite, thyroid, and much more. It is also terribly taxing to your adrenal glands and micronutrient reserves. 

Vitamin C, trace minerals, magnesium, B vitamins, antioxidants, and more are all involved in producing this seemingly never-ending demand for stress hormones. To compound matters, many adults already have suboptimal or insufficient levels of these micronutrients needed to produce stress hormones.

Supplements that support adrenal function can also help by supporting optimal levels of L-tyrosine, vitamins C and B vitamins riboflavin, B6 and B5, which are critical for adrenal hormone production.   

Serotonin

This mood-boosting hormone is associated with learning and memory, regulating sleep, digestion, and some muscular function. It is primarily produced in the gut. Recent research has revealed that serotonin levels that promote a positive impact on mood can increase longevity by as much as 10 years.7 Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression, migraines, weight gain, insomnia, and carb cravings. This can lead to Candida overgrowth or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). 

A healthy gut means a healthy brain. The key to treating mood imbalances is recognizing that most are actually rooted in your gut, not your brain. The goal is to restore the balance of your intestinal flora by treating infections in your gut. In the meantime, you can support your body’s production of serotonin through diet by eating foods high in tryptophan, such as cage-free chicken, wild-caught fish, turkey or eggs. 

For optimal health, all the processes in the human body should work together in a complex, perfectly balanced routine. This is especially true of our hormones.

How to Harmonize Your Mental and Physical Health

As I said earlier, when looking at your overall health, your mental health and physical health should never be thought of as separate. To find harmony in your mental health will have a direct positive affect on your physical health, and vice versa! So how do you do that? I recommend starting with the three lifestyle factors I mentioned earlier: diet, stress, and physical activity. 

exercise and mental health exercise and mental health https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/the-physical-activity-and-mental-health-connection/ exercise and mental health

Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet

Eliminate inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy and toxic foods such as caffeine, alcohol, processed sugars, and simple carbohydrates. Eat a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught salmon. There are several delicious ways to enjoy these foods. 

The food you eat should be fuel for your body, full of nutrient-rich foods. Giving your body what it needs while following a specific diet helps give you the structure you may need to reach your optimal weight and feel satisfied.

Eliminate Stress

When you’re stressed, it not only affects your mental health, it also can hurt your physical health.  Our stress response evolved primarily as a means of self-preservation from our ancestors facing immediate, life-threatening situations. 

Unfortunately, that response isn’t ideal for the type of chronic, ongoing stress we face today. That’s why it’s so crucial to make time to de-stress! I love spending time in my infrared sauna or taking a swim in my pool to destress from a long day. Even a brisk walk around the block can calm me down! 

I also recommend ZenAdapt™, an adaptogen blend that supports optimal cortisol levels, to promote a balanced stress response.

Get Active

You don’t need lengthy, strenuous workouts to get endorphins. Just 30 minutes of movement a day will lower your stress and boost your mood. It also strengthens your immune system and promotes optimal sleep, which is essential for the mental health and physical health balance. 

There are several online physical fitness options available including bodyweight exercises, cardio, yoga and Pilates. Even better, some of them are free. You can also get the benefits of walking by simply taking a walk outside! Dancing around your house is also a great way to get your body moving. 

When you think about achieving optimal health, your mental health and physical health should be thought of together, not separate. Taking the right steps to improve your mental health will have a positive effect on your physical health, and vice versa! So get active, optimize your diet and relieve your stress to achieve harmony between your mental health and physical health. 

FAQ

https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/the-physical-activity-and-mental-health-connection/

Why is mental health important?

If you have poor mental health from stress or depression, your body’s physical health will be affected because you will be less likely to exercise and more likely to turn to junk food and poor eating habits such as binge eating.


https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/the-physical-activity-and-mental-health-connection/

What are endorphins?

Endorphins are chemicals released by the pituitary gland in high levels. When you do lengthy exercise, endorphins create a euphoric feeling in your body, which makes you happy! Volunteering, yoga, eating dark chocolate, and laughing are other ways to trigger your body to release these happy chemicals


https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/the-physical-activity-and-mental-health-connection/

How can I harmonize my mental and physical health?

Eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercise, and finding ways to destress can get your brain working in harmony! Your mental health and physical health should be thought of together, not separate


Introducing the new Optimal Weight Breakthrough™ Program. Save $50! Offer ends 05/20 at midnight (CST)

Article Sources

  1. Autoimmune Disease and Mental Health. Valerius Medical Group. .
  2. Why are so many Americans so unhealthy. . BrainMD. .
  3. Vitamin B12, cognition, and brain MRI measures: a cross-sectional examination. . U.S. National Library of Medicine. .
  4. The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. . Help Guide. .
  5. Endorphins: Effects and how to increase levels. . Medical News Today. .
  6. The Endocrine System. . Concepts of Biology. .
  7. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. . U.S. National Library of Medicine. .