The Body-Mind Connection
What exactly is meant by the word “mind?”
It’s important to note that “mind” does not just mean your brain. The mind is made up of of mental states such as thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and images, the ‘software’. The brain is the ‘hardware’ that allows us to experience these mental states.
Mental states can be fully conscious or unconscious. We can have emotional reactions to situations without knowing or even being aware of why we are reacting. Each mental state has a positive or negative effect felt in your body. For example, the anxiety causes you to produce stress hormones which might make you feel sick, dizzy, sweaty,have headaches etc.
If we become more conscious of our emotional states we can get a better handle on them and channel them in positive directions. You can practice shifting from negative emotions to a more positive emotional state by listening to this guided audio exercise.
You can learn more about how your teenage brain works here
Why does physical activity matter?
Physical activity describes anything that we do which involves moving our bodies. Physical activities can be considered as exercise (this usually refers to activities we deliberately do for fitness or training). Being physically active is very good for our bodies. But, because our physical and mental health are closely linked, physical activity can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing too. Physical activity is particularly important if you have a mental health difficulty.
Quick tips for being more active:
What are the benefits to physical activity?
There are numerous benefits to participating in physical activity, including physical, mental, social and emotional benefits.
Physical Benefits include:
- Reduced risk of some diseases. For example, health experts suggest that being more active can reduce your risk of developing a stroke or heart disease by 10% and type 2 diabetes by 30–40%.
- Reduced risk of physical health problems as our bodies adapt to stress. As we become fitter, our bodies can better regulate our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a ‘stress hormone’ that our bodies release in response to anxiety; over prolonged periods, higher cortisol levels have been linked to a wide range of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, a lowered immune response, as well as depression and anxiety.
- Healthier organs. When you’re active your body is working more, which is good for your organs. For example, a stronger heart will help you have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
- Healthier bones. Weight-bearing exercises will strengthen your bones and build your muscle, which can reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis.
- Healthier weight. If you’re overweight, becoming more active can help you start to reduce body fat as your stamina and fitness levels improve.
- More energy. As your body adapts to increased activity levels you get a natural energy boost, which can make you feel less tired. Researchers say that even low intensity levels of activity can be beneficial if you usually feel very fatigued.
- Improved sleep. Many people find they are able to sleep better at night after having been more active during the day.
Mental benefits include:
- Reduced anxiety and happier moods. When you exercise, your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins (sometimes called ‘feel good’ hormones), which can calm anxiety and lift your mood.
- Reduced feelings of stress. You may experience reductions in feelings of stress and tension as your body is better able to control cortisol levels.
- Clearer thinking. Some people find that exercise helps to break up racing thoughts. As your body tires so does your mind, leaving you calmer and better able to think clearly.
- A greater sense of calm. Simply taking time out to exercise can give you space to think things over and help your mind feel calmer.
- Increased self-esteem. When you start to see your fitness levels increase and your body improve, it can give your self-esteem a big boost. The sense of achievement you get from learning new skills and achieving your goals can also help you feel better about yourself and lift your mood. Improved self-esteem also has a protective effect that increases life satisfaction and can make you more resilient to feeling stressed.
- Reduced risk of depression. If you’re more active there’s good evidence to suggest that at most ages, for both men and women, there’s a trend towards lower rates of depression. In fact one study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by almost 20%.
Social and emotional benefits include:
- Making friends and connecting with people. Being around other people is good for our mental health and social networks – plus you can maximise the benefits of exercising by doing it with other people. You may find that the social benefits are just as important as the physical ones.
- Having fun. Lots of us enjoy being active because it’s fun. Researchers have shown that there’s a link between the things we enjoy doing and improvements in our wellbeing overall. If you enjoy an activity you’re also more likely to keep doing it.
- Challenging stigma and discrimination. Some people find that joining a sport programme helps reduce the stigma attached to their mental health problem. Getting involved in local projects with other people who share a common interest can be a great way to break down barriers and challenge discrimination.