How Boosting Our Physical Health Impacts Our Mental Health

By Kendra Bylsma, Director of Wellness, AllOne Health

Consider our physical health, where we get sick or sustain an injury and are forced to slow down. Our mental health fluctuates similarly in response to our circumstances, driving us toward either side of the mental health spectrum. And just like our physical health, we can do things that make us mentally healthier. In fact, new research shows that what we do for our physical health has a direct impact on our mental health.


We know that exercise releases pleasure-inducing chemicals called endorphins, but that’s not its only benefit. Physical activity can boost your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. In one study, three groups of depressed patients were assigned different coping strategies. One group took antidepressant medication; the second group exercised for 45 minutes three times a week; the third group did a combination of both. 

After 16 weeks, all three groups experienced similar improvements in happiness. The very fact that exercise proved just as helpful as anti-depressants is incredible, but that’s not all. After six months, the exercise group had a 9% relapse rate, whereas the medication group relapsed by 38%. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. 

Quality Sleep 

During the day, we are bombarded with information. Sleep gives the brain some “downtime” to process all this information and store it in our memory banks. Poor sleep and depression are very closely linked. Treating one condition will often improve the other. Research now suggests that 60-90% of patients with depression have insomnia. Also, approximately 20% of people with depression have sleep apnea. Aim for 7 hours of quality sleep each night, to foster both emotional and mental resiliency.

Eat Whole Foods 

Our brain works 24/7, taking care of our thoughts and movements, our breathing, heartbeat, and senses, even while we sleep. What we eat directly affects the structure and function of our brain—and, ultimately, our mood. Diets high in refined sugars are harmful to the brain because they decrease the body’s regulation of insulin and promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function—and even a worsening of mood disorders, such as depression, and their symptoms. Aim for whole foods at each meal, including foods rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats!    

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