It’s common for people to think that our physical and mental health are two separate things, but in fact, the mind and body are more closely connected than you might think.
Try this quick exercise and see what you notice
Imagine you are standing in your kitchen. It’s a bright sunny day and you’re warm and comfortable. On the kitchen bench, you notice a beautiful wooden cutting board. On top of the board sits a bright yellow lemon. You pick it up and notice its vibrant colour, its size, and its shape. As you hold it in your hand, you notice the bumps and grooves on its skin; you might even still see where it was attached to the tree.
Next to the cutting board is a knife. As you put the lemon back onto the cutting board, you pick up the knife and cut it in half slowly. As the lemon splits in half, you notice the bright yellow pulp glistening; you might also see some seeds. There is also some lemon juice left on the board. Now take one half of the lemon and cut it in half again. Put the knife down and hold the lemon up to your nose. Instantly you can smell the sharp, citrus scent filling your nose. Now touch the lemon to your lips, noticing the sensations. Now open your mouth and bite into the lemon!
As you bite into the imaginary lemon, did you notice that you were actually salivating?!
In this way, what is happening in the mind can cause changes in the body.
And it goes both ways. What happens in the body, can also cause changes in the mind.
Being in poor physical health – for instance, being overweight, eating a sugar-rich diet, or smoking – can lead to feelings of depression. And similarly being in poor mental health – for instance, having chronic stress – can increase the risk of heart disease.
Taking control of the body and mind
The great news is that it only takes some small lifestyle changes to drastically improve both our mental and physical health.
Think of food as fuel for your vehicle. The higher the fuel quality the more optimal your vehicle will perform. It’s not a matter of how many calories you consume, but rather about the quality of the calories. Nutrient-rich foods nourish our bodies and help keep us physically energised, mentally alert, and emotionally balanced while eating mostly fatty, sugary, or processed foods leaves us feeling lethargic and irritable.
Moving our bodies
These days, exercise is synonymous with losing weight. But really, what we need for our health is a good dose of movement – any movement – every day. Going for a lunchtime walk, tending your garden, gently stretching the body – it all counts and goes a long way to keeping our heart, bones, and joints strong. Doing any form of exercise also releases feel-good chemicals (endorphins) in the brain, which increases our mental alertness, energy, and positive mood.
Getting enough rest
One area that is often overlooked when we talk about health is … rest. Our world is so preoccupied with staying busy, that it’s glorified and mistaken for success. But what we need more of to balance our busy days, is to regularly rest our weary minds and bodies.
Rest can take many forms:
- A lunch break away from the computer
- A digital break or time away from social media
- Giving yourself permission to do nothing on a Saturday!
- ‘Me’ time with friends or on your own
- A health retreat or holiday
- Going to sleep early
Being well-rested not only gives us the physical energy we need to get through our endless ‘to-do’ lists, but also the mental clarity and calmness to live our lives with a positive outlook.