It is well recognised that poor mental health can lead to physical symptoms, and vice versa.
Those with severe mental health illness live 10 to 20 years less, and are two or three time more likely to have heart or lung disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and metabolic syndrome (weight gain, infertility, insulin resistance, raised blood pressure and high cholesterol). People with high self-rated distress are 32% more likely to die from cancer. Depression can depress your immunity, and lead to more infections and inflammation. A condition like Schizophrenia doubles your risk of death from heart disease, and triples your risk of death from lung disease. Anger and anxiety can trigger heart attacks.
Equally, those with chronic health conditions often suffer anxiety, depression, isolation and disrupted sleep. Many physical diseases are linked to, or made worse by, poor emotional health. Psoriasis for example, a skin condition, is triggered by stress and a third of sufferers have anxiety or depression. Chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, insomnia and chronic pain have strong psychological components. Many people with lung or heart disease also have depression, often 3 times higher than those without these chronic health conditions.
We also know that a lot of chronic health issues are preventable. Lifestyle modification can prevent 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers. The evidence is compelling, but often hard to translate into our day to day lives. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) exercise guidelines, 85% of Australians don’t exercise enough, and we know exercise can prevent the above chronic health conditions, as well as reduce dementia, treat depression, manage stress, lose weight and improve sleep.
To treat depression, eat well and exercise. Eating a nutritional diet alone e.g. Mediterranean or DASH, can treat a third of depression cases. Exercise is just as effective as medications in managing depression.
To treat other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and Schizophrenia, improve your sleep and don’t smoke. Up to 80% of people with these disorders suffer sleep disturbances, which is correlated with worsening of their symptoms. A majority of those with psychosis smoke cigarettes – stopping smoking can reduce medication requirements by half. Smoking is now demonstrated to be a contributing cause to mental health conditions.
To treat physical health conditions, ensure you manage stress, eat well and stay active, plus get a regular health assessment, medication review and have a proactive plan to improve your health status.
When it comes to building healthy habits, make sure you work with a good GP – only 22% of GPs in Australia ask about nutrition, only 28% assess exercise, and only half feel confident with the motivational skills to encourage people towards positive lifestyle change.
Make a positive change today, for both your mental and physical well-being!