It’s apparent when one passes the magazine section in a bookstore that most publications that promote healthy lifestyles have an obscenely attractive male or female with a great smile and sexy beach body on the front cover. This commonality fuels the usual misconception that a physically fit-looking individual is a healthy one. While there is no doubt that physical health is crucial to being an overall healthy person, the correlation between physical and mental health is often overlooked. In fact, more often than not, the mind is regarded as more important to overall health than the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even stressed that there is “no health without mental health”.
All of your actions and bodily functions result from your body and brain working together in sync. The body responds to the decisions made by the brain based on the information it receives, and during the process of executing its given commands the body picks up new information which is sent to back to the brain and the cycle repeats.
Numerous studies have shown that poor mental health could do much more than just affect mood; individuals with poor mental health are actually at a higher risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions, and those with chronic physical conditions are at a higher risk of having poor mental health. It has been established that that those suffering with depression often have worse physical health than those who do not. Similarly, those with physical problems, specifically chronic diseases, tend to feel more psychologically distressed than people who are physically healthy.
Everyday, there are increasing amounts of evidence supporting the importance of balancing physical and mental health – but how would such a balance be achieved? By changing your mentality and taking a moment to view the cup as half full instead of half empty, you subconsciously alter the lens through which you look at things and the more positive perspective may actually improve your physical well-being. Conversely, what you ingest on a daily basis is as mentally influential as it is physically; adopting a balanced, healthy diet could be the key to psychological health. Though you may have heard that a balanced diet will provide your body with the proper nutrition it needs to function, something commonly overlooked is that a diet will also ultimately affect your mind and how it functions. Generally speaking, a balanced diet will give you more energy, clear your mind, and allow you to feel restored on a daily basis – things a junk food diet wouldn’t achieve. You are, after all, what you eat.
However, perhaps the most important aspect of your daily life with the potential to improve your health is the amount of physical activity that your body receives each day. Any type of consistent exercise will change your body overtime and you may begin to see that beach body being a reality. For many, this would mean a more positive body image and increased self-confidence, which would in turn improve mental health. If you’re having a stressful day, exercise can take your mind off the stress and give you something else to focus on. And while exercise may not be the most pleasant activity for some, the release of endorphins during exercise has actually been proven to make you happier. Those struggling with tedious work will be glad to know that, contrary to popular belief, a healthy dose of physical exertion can actually improve productivity. The best part of all this is that our bodies do not discriminate, and so all the non-athletic need not worry about going for sweaty, exhausting runs, because any physical activity that gets you breathing just a little bit harder than usual is enough for your body to experience the healthy byproducts of exercise.
So what are you waiting for? Go to the grocery store and buy some healthy food for dinner, rethink that thing you were angry about the other day, and, for the truly ambitious, go out for a jog to get those endorphins working – you won’t regret it.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by JJ Chuang, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo: Deltamike (flickr)