While we traditionally talk about mental and physical health as separate issues, in reality, they are closely linked. Poor physical health increases the likelihood of poor mental health, while poor mental health increases the likelihood of poor physical health – and both physical and mental health share many of the same risk factors. For example:
• If you have a chronic disease you are more likely to be depressed or anxious, and being depressed or anxious means you are more likely to develop a physical disease.
• Diet contributes significantly to both physical and mental health. For example, studies show:
– After only five days of a high-fat diet (where 75% of energy comes from saturated fat), there is a noticeable decline in memory, attention and mood
– A single high GI meal can impair memory performance immediately in children and healthy adults.
– Carbohydrates reduce stress hormones, increase our feel-good chemicals (such as serotonin) and are important for sleep regulation.
• Improving sleep significantly reduces the risk of depression, levels of distress, the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity, and improves our performance at work by up to 30%.
• Regular physical activity can be as effective as antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety and depression while increasing physical activity from being inactive to exercising 3 x week reduces the risk of depression by 20% over five years.
• Loneliness increases all-cause mortality by 14% (doesn’t sound like much, but it is more than twice that for obesity).
This link is particularly important for carers. Research shows that carers tend to experience poorer physical health outcomes than non-carers, and poor physical health outcomes are a significant predictor of depression in this group. Taking the time to invest in our physical AND mental health, therefore, is important for our overall wellbeing.
After reviewing thousands of research studies, the Foresight Mental Capital & Wellbeing Project in the UK recommends a 5-step approach to looking after our wellbeing. We have taken these 5-steps and adapted them for the challenges most commonly facing carers. They include:
Most of us have already heard the ‘Five A Day’ message when it comes to looking after our physical health (eating vegetables). In the same way, this is the ‘Five A Day’ message relating to our general wellbeing and goes a long way to combat the physical and mental health impacts of our busy and stressful lives.
Take the questionnaire at the end of each page. It gives you an opportunity to take a look in a mirror. Note your total scores for each area and identify some of the key changes you could make, which would be reasonable for you to implement and would make a difference.