If you want to lose weight, build muscle, or simply live a healthier lifestyle, you cannot dismiss the connection between your mind and body. Your mind determines whether or not you eat healthy foods and exercise regularly – key to these goals. Furthermore, your thoughts can positively or negatively affect your physical well-being.
What is the Mind-Body Connection?
The mind-body connection refers to the relationship between our thoughts and our physical health. It recognizes that our physical and emotional health are intertwined.
We've all heard about the fight or flight response – an automatic physiological reaction to an event perceived as stressful or frightening. Thousands of years ago, cavemen and women faced physical threats every day, and the fight or flight response helped keep them alive. Today, we don't face sabretooth tigers and other predators. Still, we continue to have the fight or flight response to things perceived as stressful or frightening – like public speaking, facing an aggressive co-worker, etc.
Think about the last time you were stressed about doing something. Maybe you noticed your hands shaking, gut tightening, heart racing, and/or a profusion of sweat. These are examples of the mind-body connection and how your mind or emotions can affect your body.
The mind-body connection is not a new concept. "Most ancient healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, emphasize the links between the mind and the body," Mount Sinai reports. "Western medical views were shaped by systems of thought that emphasized the opposite, that the mind and body are separate."
However, in 1964, George Solomon (a psychiatrist) began investigating the impact of emotions on inflammation and the immune system after noticing that people with rheumatoid arthritis got worse when they were depressed. In 1975, a psychologist named Robert Ader showed how mental and emotional cues can affect the immune system.
More recently, scientists have found evidence of the mind's impact on disease and health. For example, a 1989 study of 86 women with late-stage breast cancer found that those women who attended weekly support sessions in addition to standard care lived twice as long as the women who only received standard care.
Mind-Body Solutions For a Healthier Lifestyle
So how can you use this information to lose weight, build muscle, or live a healthier lifestyle?
First, never forget the importance of regular exercise, healthy eating, and good sleeping habits if you want to live a healthier lifestyle. But also remember that our ability to execute these habits is determined by our thoughts, attitudes, and actions, which are all controlled by our minds. So often, wellness is more of a mental battle than a physical battle.
For example, an American Psychological Association survey found that a lack of willpower may be an obstacle to improving personal health and finances. The report states, "One in four reported that willpower (27 percent) or time (26 percent) prevented them from making the change they were trying to achieve. Despite difficulties with willpower, a majority of those responding to the survey (71 percent) believe that willpower can be learned, which is good news since psychological research demonstrates that this is true."
Furthermore, Florida Medical Clinic states, "the hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) associated with emotion can also have physical effects. They can affect our blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns, and even our appetite." If these hormones are released too often, they can weaken the immune response, create digestive problems, and slow healing.
Let your mind help you achieve your physical goals by incorporating mind-body therapies that promote relaxation and mindfulness into your daily routine. Here are a few examples:
- Tai Chi
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