Here’s an idea that’s really intrigued me over the past few months: how are our minds and bodies related to each other? Can thoughts and emotions influence physical health? And what does this even mean?
Now, being the scientific and evidence-oriented person I am, I was naturally very skeptical upon hearing that my emotions could have a direct impact on my physical health. But I did some digging, and here are some things you may find quite interesting.
The power of the mind: Placebo effect reimagined
You’ve got a cold, and a loved one gives you a drink which they say contains a medicine. You take the drink a few times and in a couple of days you feel fine. Then you learn that there was actually no real “medicine” in your drink. Amazingly, though, you’ve still healed…
If this description sounds familiar, you may have experienced the so-called “placebo effect” yourself. The idea is that a patient takes a fake pill, and through just believing that it is working, begins to feel a healing effect. Now, this idea may sound strange, but it’s a well-documented one: believing that the pill works has an effect on diminishing the illness.
Interestingly, research has extrapolated this idea to everyday situations, too. For one, it turns out that our state of mind (that is, our consciousness) affects both our emotional AND physical wellbeing. Consistently happy people tend to experience fewer incidences of physical sickness than their consistently angry counterparts. The exact reason for this relationship is still unclear, but what is clear is that “positivity” and physical health have some sort of correlation. In fact, here’s what Lisa Yanek and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins found:
People with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.Johns Hopkins Medicine
Turns out your state of mind is way more powerful than you might initially expect. So although science hasn’t fully explained this mind-body connection yet, why not try keeping an optimistic attitude the next time you get sick?
The other way around: Exercise and emotion
Equally, I thought it’d be nice to touch on how your body can affect your mind. Ever felt angry, sad or another negative emotion, engaged in rigorous physical activity (tennis ALL THE WAY for me), and felt much better afterwards? Again, although this phenomenon is more complex than I describe here, turns out that exercise has a strong correlation with emotional and mental wellbeing. Here’s a research finding you may be interested by:
Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.2 Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106. doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a. PMID: 16862239; PMCID: PMC1470658.
If you’re intrigued by this, you may be interested in exploring more of the research behind exercise’s numerous mental benefits. For now, I hope you’re convinced that a healthy body can lead to a healthy mind. This may seem fairly obvious, but isn’t it fascinating how mind can affect body AND body can affect mind?
The truth is that this idea of mind-body connection isn’t new, and has been alluded to in several cultures, religions and philosophies, particularly in the East. I wanted to leave you with this (long) video (sorry) which I personally found super interesting.
Thanks as always! Be on the lookout for more content coming soon!