The connection between our minds and bodies is a fascinating and complex subject. Most mobility tests measure the capability of your body to move, however, your mind is just as important in determining your level of physical activity. Whereas physical limitations can play a role in preventing our mobility without our mind’s cooperation we can be left with little means to exercise and stay active. In this week’s blog I’d like us to examine what impact your mental health can have on your body and what practical steps you can take to make sure your mind and body are working harmoniously.
Exploring mental health and mobility
Mental health is the umbrella term used to describe everything mind-related from our psychology to our emotional and social wellbeing. Mental health has become a big area of interest for many people as it’s not uncommon for us to experience poor mental health at one time or another in our lives. When we suffer from consistent stress or anxiety it can have an impact not just on how we feel but also our motivation and physical ability to go about our day-to-day lives.
Mobility refers to our ability to move our bodies without resistance. It’s natural that as we get older our range of movement may decrease and it may take a little more effort to stay active, fit and healthy. When our mobility decreases it can be harder to engage in hobbies, physical activities and even just day-to-day life. However many studies have shown us that it’s vital we stay mobile as we get older not only to preserve our ability to move and stay independent but for our mental well-being too. The connection between mental health and mobility is astounding. A recent study by the World Health organisation found that depression is a leading cause of disability in 2019.
The impact of psychology on our mobility
Do you ever have one of those days where the world just feels a bit too stressful and the best response you can muster is to stay in bed the whole day? It’s quite a common experience and the perfect example of how our minds and bodies are intrinsically linked. This can also work the other way around. Physical conditions that lead to a lack of mobility such as arthritis or muscular dystrophy which cause pain and discomfort can discourage those afflicted from moving in a way that might cause them more pain. This lack of ability to move and engage in things that require physical activity can leave us feeling anxious and depressed. Conditions like depression and anxiety can affect our level of motivation leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. Reduced physical activity can exacerbate the symptoms of negative mental health, creating a vicious cycle that continues to impede your mobility.
The effects of our mental health on our mobility
Unfortunately in the same way lack of mobility can damage your mental well-being, mental health conditions can also manifest physically. Studies have found that physical symptoms of depression can include but aren’t limited to chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, sleep disturbances and appetite changes. Psychosomatic or somatic disorders are examples of how emotional stress can manifest physically. People who experience such conditions may experience unexplained pain and fatigue that can further discourage physical activity. Chronic pain and fatigue are also common physical manifestations of mental health issues. Conditions like Fibromyalgia often associated with high stress and anxiety can cause chronic pain and extreme fatigue, making it harder to exercise without experiencing discomfort.
Everything is connected
It’s best to take a holistic approach when trying to improve your mental health for the sake of mobility. Our lifestyles play a large role in determining our physical and mental fortitude. When approaching mental health it’s important to determine what mental and physical factors may be contributing to negative mental health. Some mental health conditions are beyond our control as individuals and may require professional or medical help but there are also a range of factors that are within our ability to control. How much sleep we get, how varied our diet is and how sedentary our lifestyle is can all play a role in making us feel better or worse mentally. Taking small positive steps in any of these areas can help instil a sense of positivity and mental well-being.
Strategies to improve mental health and mobility
Fortunately, there are methods to improve both your physical health and mental health at the same time. It’s important to find a balance between engaging in physical activity and not so much that you cause yourself discomfort or injury. For those whom mobility is an issue for there are a range of exercises you can engage in that aren’t just soft on your joints and muscles but are also helpful for promoting positive mental health. Stretch-based exercises such as yoga or tai chi allow you to move slowly and fluidly, which is perfect for those trying to increase their range of movement. Yoga and tai chi are also great for promoting mental clarity and mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown by studies to be effective in promoting positive mental health and self-awareness. If you’d like to know more about how mindfulness can help improve your mental health feel free to check out our recent blog on this subject.
Whatever you do, make sure you’re getting outside. Engaging in physical activity outdoors not only helps your body absorb its daily intake of vitamin D, but studies have also found that being in green and leafy spaces can help improve your feeling of well-being. So whether you’re going for a cycle in the woods or just getting out and about in the garden. This practice is known as Ecotherapy and you can read more about it over on our blog.
It is worth bearing in mind that for those suffering from serious mental health complaints, none of the above advice may be applicable. Bouts of depression and anxiety can be quite natural but when “once in a while” becomes a regular occurrence it may be worth consulting with a GP or medical professional. Nothing is more important than looking after yourself, and if professional support is the best way to do that, please don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Understanding the link between mental health and your physical health is a vital step in looking after ourselves. It’s important to learn to recognise when we are feeling low, and to understand that although physical activity might not be the first thing on our minds, it offers us a way to stay fit and release the endorphins our brain needs to feel better. A healthy lifestyle can help us not only stay strong and supple as we get older but can also promote positive mental health. A little exercise can go a long way in ensuring that you stay mobile fit and independent.