Mental Illness & Physical Health: How They’re Connected & One Way to Help Improve Both

May is national Mental Health Awareness Month. Since mental health isn’t visible, the way a limp from an injured knee, or the way a sling after surgery would be, it can often seem mysterious. Becoming more aware could help you or a loved one: mental illness is common and treatable, and also has important implications for physical health and well-being. Read on to see how mental health and physical health are related, as well as some ways to help improve both.

  • One in five Americans has some form of mental illness in any given year.
  • Many people suffering panic attacks learn they have an anxiety disorder from the Emergency department; a panic attack is a physical experience including racing heart rate, sweating, nausea, feeling faint, actually losing consciousness, and more.
  • Depression often has physical symptoms including discomfort and pain in the body, as well as fatigue or inability to sleep.
  • Anxiety/depression and heart disease can be related. In fact, post-op cardiac patients often have a 30-40% risk of developing anxiety or depression.
  • Inactivity (being sedentary) actually plays a role in a person’s risk for having reduced mental health and/or developing mental illness.
  • Various studies have demonstrated that physical activity can improve mental health and some symptoms in patients with anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia.

The idea that “mind” and “body” are two separate and slightly related entities is a (largely false) Western concept. In fact, the mind/body connection is vital to overall health. When one suffers, the other typically follows. Poor physical health can often exacerbate underlying mental health issues, and mental health issues can affect overall physical health. One example: people with chronic illness have a higher rate of depression than those without chronic illness.

Physical activity can play an important role in improving both mental and physical health. Inactivity is a contributing factor to declining mental health. One research psychiatrist has demonstrated that three or more exercise sessions of 45-60 minutes can help improve even chronic depression. Even when medication is needed, physical activity can still provide benefits for both physical and mental health.

For those patients dealing with chronic illness, pain, or mobility problems, addressing barriers to exercise is important. Seeing a physical therapist who can assess the patient’s issues and limitations, and provide a custom treatment plan will allow the patient to move forward and work on becoming more active. By increasing physical activity and helping improve either mental or physical health, the other is naturally affected. Also, as we wrote recently, even spending 20-30 minutes in nature can help reduce physical biomarkers of stress. Activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to be a good start!

If you or your loved one needs more mental health resources, click here. You’ll find information, as well as a provider locator tool.

If you’re struggling and need a starting point, Body One Physical Therapy is ready to help. We’re locally-owned and operated, with three locations serving Central Indiana: North Indianapolis,  Fishers, and Zionsville. One of our caring, experienced physical therapists will work with you to get you moving in the right direction on your health and wellness journey! Call today and let’s get started!




Resources Cited:

Psychology today

Heart Hospital at Baylor


Psych Central