An unhealthy lifestyle takes a serious and lifelong toll on the body. From minor health conditions to life threatening cardiovascular risks, everyone knows that a healthier diet and fitness routine can improve your physical health. But does an unhealthy lifestyle impact your emotional health, too? As doctors and researchers continue to explore the interplay between the mind and the body, the answer is already yes.
- Anxiety and lower self-esteem. Being overweight and unable to participate in recreational activities has been linked to lower self-esteem and anxiety. When completing even routine tasks like taking out the trash or walking up the stairs causes shortness of breath and joint pain, it’s easy to understand why an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise might cause an increase in emotional and mental distress. If the physical health doesn’t improve through a healthy diet, exercise, and better sleep, the cycle only continues, contributing to more anxiety and depression.
- Increased stress. Stress is caused by a hormone (cortisol) that is released by the body during periods of mental stress. Cortisol impacts both physical and mental health if left unresolved. Exercise is not only a great stress buster that floods the body with endorphins to make you feel better mentally, it also reverses the effects of cortisol on your physical health. A lack of physical exercise contributes to unresolved, cumulative stress making your entire life feel out of control and far more difficult than it has to feel!
- Physical exercise causes the body to release endorphins (otherwise known as the body’s “feel good” chemicals) which are essential for alleviating symptoms of depression. Mayo Clinic recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five days each week, consistently, to alleviate depression. The more strenuous the activity, the more effective the exercise is on your mental health.
- Cognitive decline. Senior citizens may be especially at risk mentally without sufficient physical activity. Mayo Clinic researchers have found a link between a lack of aerobic exercise and an increase in cognitive decline among older people. Oxygen feeds the brain and reduces the impact of aging on the brain. Not only can seniors remain more active when they have a base of regular, consistent exercise, but they can remain happier and mentally healthier, too. Fortunately, FitClub has a variety of group exercise classes specifically geared towards older members.
- Food matters, too! It’s not just a lack of physical exercise that lead to emotional and mental health problems. Certain foods reduce the body’s ability to naturally cope with stress and process cortisol. Processed foods consisting of more chemicals than nutrients and refined carbs may reduce the production of endorphins. The more junk food you eat, the more anxiety and stress you feel, leading to eating more junk food in an attempt to make yourself feel better. The next time you feel more stressed than usual and feel an urge to hit the drive-thru, try a salad rich in fresh vegetables or fruit instead. You’ll feel better mentally and physically when you make better, healthier decisions, even in times of stress and turmoil.
So what can you do to improve your emotional and physical health? Start where you are. Physical fitness and a healthy diet are long-term fixes and can’t be radically changed overnight. Start slowly and stay consistent. If you don’t know where you to start, talk to your medical provider and a personal trainer at FitClub to find the program that’s best for you!