Heartland Human Services

The Connection: Mental & Physical Health

Jenny Mosier, MS, LCPC

Mental health and physical health have always been interconnected.  Mental health
includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.  It affects how we think, feel, and
act.  It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.  Our
physical health consists of all of our body’s functions and activities.  We must make sure we do
not separate mental health from our physical health.   Research has shown that both mental
health and physical health are intertwined and that one can affect the other (Grohol, 2013). 
            Through research we’ve learned that uncontrolled anger can lead to physical heart
problems.  There is strong evidence suggesting that people who struggle to cope with their anger
were found to be at ten times heightened risk for future heart arrhythmias than those without
anger problems (Guliksson, Burrell, Lundin, Toss, Swarsudd, 2011). 
Research has also linked both mental and physical health through exercise.  We all know
that exercise benefits our physical health and can aid in strengthening our bodies.  Research also
shows that exercise can improve mental health, neurocognitive function, and cortical activation
across the lifespan.  For example, in normal children, participation in regular vigorous exercise
may lead to better academic performance, as well as promote the development of adaptive
executive functions, such as behavior self-control.  Exercise can also be used as treatment for
children with behavior problems (Grohol, 2013).
Keeping physically fit means keeping mentally fit as well. That means finding healthy
ways to deal with “negative emotions” — such as anger, aggression, aggravation, fear, etc. —
and reinforcing the positive emotions and behaviors in our life.  Research has shown that
exercise and physical activity can enhance brain function and actually change our brain structure
just as psychotherapy can also alter and change brain structure.  (Guliksson, Burrell, Lundin,
Toss, & Swarsudd, 2011).  Our brain is a mysterious thing, but with this research and strong
evidence linking mental health and physical health we can begin to understand them as a whole.
For example, we know what an artery is, and we know what a heart is.  We also understand how
the two are connected and how one cannot function without the other.  The same can be said for
both our mental health and our physical health.

Psychologists advise those who have feelings of depression lasting more than two weeks to seek professional advice.  If you or a loved one are experiencing  any symptoms of depression, contact Heartland Human Services at 217-347-7179 or take a free screening at www.heartlandhs.org