Physically Fit vs Mentally Strong: The Answer Might Surprise You
One night after coming home from the gym, I told my husband that I was exhausted and he said “you know, it doesn’t matter how much you take care of your physical well-being. If you neglect your mental health, you will feel like sh*t more often than you want to.” And it got me thinking, I mean we read a lot of articles about how to be mentally strong but there aren’t as many that talk about the importance of physical well-being. Physically fit or mentally strong? What comes first?
Unfortunately, it’s usually not until our mental issues start to affect our physical health that we seek professional help. Sadly but very true in my case and others that I have encountered and spoken to, which prompted me to write this article.
I remembered seeing this quote by Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophical novel “Either/Or” and it goes like “It may at times have occurred to you, dear reader, to doubt somewhat the accuracy of that familiar philosophical thesis that the outer is the inner and the inner is the outer.” – I think this is the best introduction to yet another contrast of human existence: physical vs. mental.
After all, both Kierkegaard’s survey from 1843 and our digitally-native blog post aim to answer the same question: “How should we live?” There’s no doubt that our bodily ordeals go hand in hand with our superior minds.
But does one trump the other? If the outer is the inner, and vice versa, then where does our well-being begin?
I’ve always been an active person but a few years back, I seriously neglected my mental well-being, simply because I was a workaholic until I was burned out and couldn’t get out of bed. The
The key, as they said in everything, is a healthy balance.
Here’s why physical and mental health can’t do without each other, just as well as why you need to achieve both.
The Strength in Unity
Mental and physical health are fundamentally linked. Together, or not at all, they allow us to find a happy balance between ourselves and our surroundings. Most importantly, staying physically fit and mentally strong is the ultimate recipe for retaining the best possible quality of life.
Mental strength is a reward that we earn for taking good care of our emotional depths, which makes it both a consequence and the clearest sign of our overall psychological well-being.
Essentially, it includes our abilities to deal with difficulties, manage our feelings, objectively perceive yourselves and build fulfilling relationships with others.
Just like physical fitness, mental hygiene can be accomplished only with hard work.
Nonetheless, a modern man is mostly focused on keeping appearances. Since harmony of body and mind is a theme as old as time, it’s somewhat odd that we place emphasis on one, but not the other.
The Importance of Invisible Effects
While physical shape leaves a more visible trace on the surface, psychological processes take place in the inner realms of our being. In relation to health, terms “mental”, “psychological” and “emotional” are interchangeable, even though our outwardly emotional expressions are not the most secure indicator of our mental state.
Sometimes, we cry when we are happy. Other times, we laugh in spite of our sadness. Ultimately, that’s the most obvious difference between physical and mental aspects of human existence: while first is easily measured and noticeable, the other requires honest and thorough introspection.
Perhaps this is the reason that we often fail to detect the root to our health-related problems. They may appear in physically fit people as well, and then they are an unambiguous symptom of a neglected psyche.
The Negligence Goes Both Ways
Still, it’s not so rare that our negligence goes in the opposite direction. Take self-help books, for instance. Providing guidance to those in search of fulfillment, happiness, and success, they almost never talk about physical well-being. In grand majority of cases, the power of the mind is their primary concern.
Worldwide, self-help literature is deemed slightly controversial. There are, however, some brilliant examples of the genre, written by professional psychologists and examiners of human behavior and soul. The undoubted expertise of these authors is simultaneously their nearsightedness, leading them to believe that mental spheres are exclusively responsible for personal growth.
The same way that depression is likely to be missed by professionals who care for physically sick patients, the importance of regular exercise and balanced diet is likely to be overlooked by experts who attend to emotional needs. Inconsiderate separation of the two goes both ways, which is a reason more for us, as individuals, to take a more holistic approach.
How One Affects the Other
Not all medical professionals were blind to the unquestionable co-existence of body and mind. Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and a psychiatrist by vocation pioneered the thought that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.
Although there’s strong evidence to support this claim, physical and mental health care have been largely disconnected ever since the founding of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. In reality, one affects the other almost simultaneously.
The Two-Way Street
Poor mental health is detrimental to physical well-being in numerous ways. Conversely, inadequate self-care leads to various mental conditions, of which depression and anxiety are most common. The next time you start doubting the fact that the outer is the inner and the inner is the outer, remember these stats.
- A 2009 study found that 22% of examined patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease suffered from depression as well.
- Up to 50% of cancer patients display symptoms of mental illness, primarily depression and anxiety.
- Patients with type II diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression.
- Generally, depression is associated with 50% increased the risk of death from cancer and 67% increased the risk of death from heart disease.
- According to Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canadians struggling with depression are three times more inclined to develop physical conditions.
Continual Stage Fright
How we act, think and feel inevitably manifests physically, urging our bodies to respond in different ways. You don’t have to be mentally ill to experience symptoms of this connection – you can be as much as upset. It’s simply that whatever happens on the inside has to take a physical form.
Stomach butterflies and goosebumps are the most obvious example of this linkage, you see. Some responses are way more harmful, and they can last for a long time. While a brief flurry of stress or anxiety, such is stage fright, for instance, rises your blood pressure only momentarily, the continual physical strain on internal organs can cause long-term consequences.
It happens for a number of reasons. On the inside, stress alters hormonal balance and weakens your body’s immune system, thus initiating a vicious cycle of mental triggers and physical responses. You’re starting to feel stressed about being stressed, which immediately leads to impaired self-perceived health and poorer lifestyle choices.
The Vicious Cycle
Self-perceived health is the way you experience your current mental and physical state. It’s a central concern in hypochondria, but it doesn’t have to take an abnormal turn in order to become harmful. When you’re feeling blue and under the weather, your self-perceived mental health puts you at risk of developing poor physical health.
In those situations, you may lack motivation to stay physically fit. Your sleeping and eating habits are suddenly less important, while smoking, drinking and sedentary lifestyle take precedence. Emotional issues decrease energy levels, impact cognitive function and spur negative social behavior, all of which contributes to worse physical outcomes.
Insomnia and change in appetite are just some of the consequences of a weakened mind. Whether you’re sad, fatigued or annoyed, you can also experience physical symptoms like upset stomach, palpitations, light-headedness, headaches, extreme tiredness, chest pain and back pain.
When Your Body Fails You
It’s not only that mind affects the body. In one way or other, physical health problems aggravate mental health issues as well. If an unexpected flue attacks your immune system just in time for the life-changing meeting, you’ll surely be frustrated about your body failing you in the most decisive moment of all.
That’s exactly how people who live with chronic physical conditions feel all the time. In fact, this type of illness is the area in which the relationship between mental and physical health is most evident. Those inflicted by it experience prolonged emotional stress that frequently causes depression.
While physical disability and recurring pain naturally cause emotional distress and isolate people from social interactions, thus indirectly affecting the mind, some chronic physical conditions impact brain functions undeviatingly. This happens when high blood sugar levels, caused by a disease, disrupt the circulation of blood.
Which One Is More Important, Body Or Mind?
Since there is a definite connection between mind and body, it’s only natural that you should take equal care of both. Psychological crisis leads to physical disorder, whilst impairment of body causes frailty of mind. But, how about we put negative thoughts aside from now on and see how the two cooperate in a more productive way.
Living a stress-free, calm-giving, strain-slaying and mind-soothing life are nearly impossible without physical exercise, nourishing dietary choices and sound sleep. To a busy person running on a tight schedule and constantly fighting with the pressure of hypermodern, fast-paced culture, all of this might be too much to maintain.
As a result, most of us, myself included give priority to one of these aspects and postpone the other for later. It’s a common misconception that health is achieved only through extremes, which is why fitness-savvy people choose physical endurance over spiritual relaxation, and mindful individuals replace gym for contemplation.
Even though being passionately committed to either physical fitness or mental strength has uncountable boons, favoring one and neglecting the other is not a healthy choice. The question is: can we have the best of both worlds? The answer is surprisingly simple, and deep down, you know it too.
Balancing the Scales
Merriam-Webster defines equilibrium as a “state of adjustment between opposing or divergent influences or elements”. Whether we talk about the aesthetic and the ethical like Kierkegaard, encourage work-life balance as the latest trend in corporate culture, or trace linkage between body and mind, equilibrium is our ultimate goal.
As we’ve seen, body and mind are not antipodes at all! Since these aspects are in constant dialogue, we don’t actually need to harmonize them, let alone reconcile their differences. Taken together, they form a perfect equilibrium – the only thing we need to do is balance the scales.
Simply put, this means that we don’t have to adjust anything but our perspective and our schedules. We have a responsibility toward ourselves to stay aware of the body-mind connection and nurture it from the inside and the outside alike.
Can We Achieve Fulfillment Without Both?
A bad case of a migraine can prevent you from reaching your monthly goal in the same way as mental fatigue can.
It’s a simple example of how both physical and emotional problems can stand on your way to personal achievement and happiness.
Whether you need to get through the day or sort out your entire life, paying equal attention to body and mind is an imperative.
The ability to overcome life obstacles is crucial for a meaningful existence. Personally, you may find strength in artistic excursions, peaceful walks or fine cuisine, but these are only pieces of the bigger puzzle that we call inner fulfillment.
The truth is, you can’t enjoy simple pleasures and drive strength from them if the rest of your life doesn’t make sense.
In order to achieve success and happiness, we need progression. If our movements are restricted only to one sphere, our goals are merely half met.
How Mental Strength Improves Physical Fitness
Psychologists define mental strength as the earned ability to control one’s emotions, structure one’s thoughts and build a functional relationship with others, no matter the circumstances. It’s about staying true to your values but respecting others’ at the same time. Essentially, it requires continual self-improvement.
As you grow into a mentally strong person, you evaluate and identify your core values and learn how to wisely expand your mental energy. Both are vital for developing positive mindset and tolerance, without which success and happiness are simply unattainable.
How does mental strength contribute to physical health? Emotionally stable people have a strong grasp of reality and accept that sickness is a natural part of life. Consequently, they are immune to vicious cycles.
More importantly, such individuals are fully aware of the toxicity of unhealthy choices, which makes them unsusceptible to temptations.
How Physical Fitness Improves Mental Strength
In 2011, the American College of Sports Medicine showed that six weeks of weight training or bicycling is enough to ease symptoms of anxiety disorder, but you don’t need scientific evidence to realize that frequent exercise is a strong mood enhancer. What’s been proven by numerous studies is what you can experience after a half an hour of jogging.
Staying physically fit is mostly associated with regular fitness routines, wholesome diet, and a good night’s sleep. By itself, each of these factors affects mental health in the most positive way. They are limitless sources of productive energy that transforms any obstacle into a challenge.
Dive deep into yourself and you’ll see how fleeting those moments of instant, unhealthy pleasure really are. A burger might feel spectacular while it lasts, but it’s always accompanied with nausea. Satisfaction is real only when abiding, and that’s exactly how physical health works.
Find Your Balance
An old adage says that “the body achieves what the mind believes”, and it can’t be truer. They are nothing but two halves of a whole, constantly striving towards balance.
It took me a while to achieve a balance between my physical and mental well-beings, but I’m glad I did. It improves tremendously my overall health for my personal life and my productivity at work.
The sooner you allow them to co-exist, the sooner you’ll know that there’s only one answer to the primal question.
If in doubt if the outer is the inner and the inner is the outer, or puzzled about “how we should live”, remember: mental hygiene is just as important as physical health, while together they are the most resistant shield and the most powerful engine.