Good health begins as a thought. The mind-body connection
Achieving long-term health is a balancing act where body and mind are interconnected and inseparable. What you feed your mind has as much of an impact as the food and supplements you feed your body. Many studies have been conducted on the subject of optimism and physical health, all of them highlighting how resiliency or optimism, tend to be linked to better health biomarker (such as blood pressure, heart rate or cholesterol) and higher health-related quality of life.
A meta-analytic review (basically a systematical evaluation of data from several studies that has great statistical power) published on the Annals of Behavioral Medicine concludes that: "Optimism is a significant predictor of positive physical health outcomes". So, how do we stay positive?
Experts rate exercise, sufficient sleep, controlling negative thoughts being surrounded by green spaces and building strong social connections as some of the best ways to decrease stress, promote optimism and boost health.
Let's see how these factors promote good mind-body health
1. EXERCISE The release of endorphins during exercise promotes a sense of wellbeing, which has the added benefit of boosting your immune system and your gut health. During exercise, the lymphatic system – a network of tissues and organs that helps your body to eliminate toxins and waste – is mobilised. Its main role is to transport lymph fluid, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells. Unlike the blood, which is transported by the heart, lymph fluid only moves if you do. A recent study from a North Carolina University showed that people who exercised for five or more days weekly experienced 43% fewer days of upper respiratory infections. Exercise is also a possible modulator of intestinal microbiome composition, since some investigations have shown that it is associated with increased biodiversity but also -in case of overexercising- with dysbiosis. Healthy microbiota can, in turn, promote healthy skeletal muscle function and mental well- being. Walking, running or any other muscle-moving activity also dramatically reduces stress by ‘working off steam’ when you are upset or angry. With the release of endorphins, your body receives a natural mood boost, resulting in reduced stress levels, which in turn puts less pressure on your immune and digestive systems.
2. GET ENOUGH SLEEP According to an American Psychological Association study, stress is what keeps more than 40% of adults awake at night. Individuals with insomnia symptoms score low on optimism and self-esteem with negative repercussions on physical health. Several studies have shown that sleep deprivation produces negative effects on mood and cognitive function, as well as on cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, glucose metabolism, hormonal regulation, and inflammation. Current evidence suggests that good sleep appear to be essential for maintaining good gut microbial balance. Circadian rhythms, basically a 24-hour internal clock also known as your sleep/wake cycle, regulates the intestinal microbiome too. Enough sleep is key for optimum digestion. And optimum digestion is key for optimum health. Here are the most important sleep hygiene practices suggested by The National Sleep Foundation: Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Alcohol is well-known to help you fall asleep faster, too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol. Exercise to promote good quality sleep. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercises, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. Steer clear of food that can trigger indigestion such as fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks. Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. This could include taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, or light stretches. The bedroom should be cool – between 16 and 19 degrees – for optimal sleep. Bright light from lamps, cell phone, and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep, so turn those light off.
3. FOCUS ON SELF-CARE Make an effort to do something nice for yourself every day. Neglecting your own needs adds unnecessary stress to the system, resulting in increased vulnerability to illness. Stress-related diseases such as burnout or depression can be prevented if self-care is seen not as an act of egoism but as an effective method to improve stress resilience and enhance health. Remember, only when you put yourself first you place yourself in the position to be selfless. Women, in particular, tend to put their own needs last, especially if they’re caring for children and/or elderly parents. If you battle with guilt when you take an hour off to read, go for a manicure or have a coffee with a friend, remind yourself that if your bucket is empty, you’ll have nothing left to give anyone else.
4. MINDFULNESS and YOGA You cut in half the chances of catching a cold by meditating. A University of Wisconsin study showed that people who practised mindfulness – a type of meditation or mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations – noted 13 fewer illnesses and took 51 fewer sick days. Researchers concluded that this reduced the physical effects of stress, which is known to weaken the immune system. Recent studies have also shown that yoga does help rebalance the autonomic nervous system which plays a central role in the response to stress and can help to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and other disorders.
5. IMMERSE YOURSELF IN NATURE According to a very recent study published in the journal 'Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences', children surrounded by the least amount of green were more susceptible to mental disorder later in life. But green space is not just important throughout childhood, there has been mounting evidence for the beneficial effect of green space on mental health among adults with several studies showing a direct correlation between the percentage of green space in people’s living environment and the perceived general health of residents. Natural environments have a positive effect on well-being through reduction of stress and cognitive fatigue and epidemiological research has shown a positive relationship between the amount of green space in the living environment and physical and mental health and longevity. So take your daily vitamin G, it could be just a 10-minute walk in the park. No day should go by without your dose of Green. Nature, the one we eat, breathe, see and hear, heals us and keep us sane. We don't need to be broken to resort to the healing power of nature, the everyday bruises and struggles need constant healing because big things always start small.
6. IT TAKES A VILLAGE… Building strong social connections has proven psychological and physiological benefits. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, having a ‘support group’ – no matter how big or small – boosts health by creating ‘stress buffers’. Being able to share stress or concerns with close family or friends provides an opportunity for outside support and advice, which alleviates a sense of being alone in your situation. Ongoing stress is also a contributing factor to many chronic diseases and is seriously not helpful if you are trying to lose weight. “When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” – Jack Kornfield, American author, and Buddhist mindfulness pioneer.
PS If there is anything that has come up for you as a result of this post I warmly invite you to book in for a free 30-minute discovery call to see if a personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan might help. You can book yourself directly by clicking right here.