Physical Health Influences Mental Health: Why We Must Act Upon It

How we take care of our bodies can profoundly impact our psychological state, and neglecting physical health can lead to mental health issues.

Monique Jhingon
07 Jun 2023 Updated On Jul 22, 2023 18:17 IST
Physical Health Influences Mental Health
It is common knowledge that physical health is vital for a person's overall well-being. What many people may not realise is that physical health is also closely linked to mental health. How we take care of our bodies can profoundly impact our psychological state, and neglecting physical health can lead to mental health issues. 

The body and mind are connected. What we think and feel impacts our bodies. For example, we all have experienced this in the form of butterflies in our stomach when we are nervous, loose motions when we are highly stressed or nausea when we feel tense.

The mind-body connection works the other way, too: our physical health impacts our mind. An example of this is chronic inflammation. Inflammation can "travel" to the brain, and this chronic brain inflammation is associated with mental health concerns like anxiety or depression, mood imbalances, cognitive symptoms, and neuro-degeneration.

The Concerns And The Causes


Until recently, mental health issues were viewed in isolation. In the case of depression or anxiety, a referral to a psychologist or counsellor along with medication is the common course of treatment. And it is, of course, possible that there are mental/emotional causes and that such a treatment is warranted. But recognising that the body and brain are connected and that the cause can also be physical in nature is not only a paradigm shift, but it also gives us practical diet and lifestyle tools to help support good mental health.

Going back to the example of chronic inflammation, some of the underlying causes include:

  • A diet high in inflammatory foods such as sugar, processed foods, refined seed oils like canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, processed / junk foods
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Chronic allergies (environmental allergies as well as food allergies or intolerances)
  • Imbalances in the gut microbiome, which are the micro-organisms that live within our digestive tract. An overgrowth of "bad" bacteria and other micro-organisms and reduced levels of good bacteria can contribute to inflammation. 
  • High levels of stress.
  • Chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

Solutions To Note

Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients can help improve one’s physical health, which can lead to better mental health. Conversely, a poor diet can lead to a host of physical health issues, such as the inflammatory conditions mentioned above. Research has shown that certain foods, such as those high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety. By making nutrition and lifestyle changes and addressing underlying imbalances, we can resolve chronic inflammation, resolve the immune response in the brain and ensure good brain function and mental health. 

Some practical nutrition and lifestyle changes to support good physical and mental health are:

  • Eat a healthy, diverse, whole-foods-based diet low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, refined seed oils and processed foods
  • Eliminate foods that you are allergic to or sensitive to. Common culprits are gluten, dairy products, corn, and soy. A short-term elimination diet can help identify if these foods are causing your problems
  • Use therapeutic diets to help manage autoimmune- or other health conditions – you can work with a functional nutrition practitioner with knowledge and experience in nutritional therapy and help you find your best, personalised approach
  • Reduce and manage your stress
  • Exercise regularly and move throughout the day. One of the most significant ways physical health influences mental health is through exercise. Exercise has been shown to impact mental health positively, and it is recommended as part of a treatment plan for conditions such as depression and anxiety.
  • Eat a blood-sugar-balancing diet
  • Support the health of your gut: besides avoiding inflammatory foods, make sure you eat plenty of colourful plant foods that are high in fibre, resistant starch, and polyphenols, as well as probiotic-rich foods such as fermented foods like kanji, pickles, and kombucha.

In conclusion, physical health is closely linked to mental health, and neglecting physical health can lead to a host of mental health issues. Incorporating regular exercise, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress are all essential components of physical health that can improve how we think and feel. 

In addition, taking care of our bodies can improve our overall well-being and help us lead happier, healthier lives. If, despite all this, you have trouble managing your health issues, seek the help of a functional nutrition practitioner who is specialised in helping you identify your unique and personalised diet approach. 

Authored by Monique Jhingon, Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Consultant and Author

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