The Daily Mind: 7 Ways Mental Health Impacts Physical Fitness

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Everyone knows there’s a connection between your mind and your body, but most people think in terms of physical health or fitness and its effect on your mental state. But it should be just as clear that your mental health can influence your body as well. There are a number of fascinating research studies, both complete and in progress, about health effects.

You might guess that depression has impact your health, but did you consider it might make you more susceptible to inflammatory diseases? Or that writing good things about other people for twenty minutes three times a week can lower your cholesterol? Studies indicate this, and other surprising correlations.

But instead of health and diseases, let’s talk about fitness. Staying in shape is tough for everyone, but let’s talk about how your mental health, good or bad, influences your goal to be physically fit. Not which exercises will help you with your mental health, but the other way around.


One of the most talked about mental health issues is depression. Ranging from mild and intermittent to severe and constant it’s obvious it has dramatic impact on your entire life. Focusing on exercise makes it clear just how debilitating being depressed can be. One of the symptoms, lack of energy, puts an immediate damper on any plans for working out. If you can overcome that and do a least some light exercise it can help restore your vigor, but depending on how severe your depression is this can be challenging.

Additionally, depression can mute your enthusiasm for any activity, making it feel just too difficult to exercise. Pushing through can get you some benefit, but remember that depression blunts your ability to push through like that. The whole point of many mental health issues is they can’t be overcome simply by will power because they undermine that will power to begin with.

Don’t ever beat yourself up for not being able to cope with conditions like depression. They are practically defined by the fact that people can’t cope with them. They can be treated and overcome, but you need new tools to do so. What works for everyone else who isn’t depressed isn’t going to work for you, just like ‘walking it off’ doesn’t work to fix a broken leg.


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Poor Self Image

The gym can be tough for people with a poor self-image. Looking around at all the people who are already fit and working out to stay in shape can make for some pretty harsh comparisons when you get started. The same thing can happen in any of the common places where you exercise, yoga classes, running trails, wherever. An alternative can be a home gym or getting some professional assistance. Comparisons of anyone when they start an exercise program to anyone who has been doing one for any amount of time is just unfair and unhelpful. If seeing them inspires you, that’s fine, but if it makes you want to quit, you need a new strategy.

Low Self Esteem

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Feelings of failure or low self-worth can make sticking to a physical fitness program very difficult. This can be similar to poor self-image, or it can be related to missing a day working out or eating something unhealthy while you diet. Again, if you can just brush this feeling off and go on, you probably don’t have a serious mental health issue in this area. If you do have one professional help can get you on track and keep you there.


It can be tricky to balance a busy lifestyle and incorporate health and fitness. And trying to do so without any reduction in other demands can lead to increased stress. To reduce your stress, you might start skipping workouts, but if you feel guilty about that it can increase your stress levels even more. Stress can contribute directly to elevated blood pressure, making exercise a health risk.

Consider changing some of your stress inducing behaviors, work less hours, avoid activities that cause you aggravation, and add some stress reducers. A quiet walk, a Yoga or Tai Chi class, even meditation. With lower stress levels you should have more energy to use in the other parts of your life, including your fitness regimen.


This comes in a variety of flavors, from fear of injury to being very uncomfortable in social situations. Many people can learn to deal with their anxiety themselves, sometimes by taking control and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone in some way. Organizations like Toastmasters help people overcome fear of public speaking while local theater groups can make you work closely with people you many never have met, then perform in front of an audience. Once again, some people will need professional assistance to deal with their anxiety about an exercise program.


To shift from negative mental health issues to more positive states of mind, having a positive attitude can do more than just encourage you to finish (or start) your workout. There are studies showing direct physical results from positive thoughts. So think happy thoughts, they can actually make you fit!

Social Interaction

Keeping a healthy social life can help with your fitness program by providing external positive reinforcement and possibly even workout partners. While interacting with people directly is usually best, there are some advantages to a virtual social circle. Creating your own website and putting up a blog about your fitness can get you that encouragement and make you feel more like going to work out rather than skipping.

All in all, working to enhance both your mental health and your physical health can reap real benefits in your life. And understanding the relationship between them can make it easier to handle. One more reminder, if you do have issues that are impacting your enjoyment of life, talk to a professional about it. You can start with your doctor, but if they recommend you see a specialist, do it. Your life can be better, just by learning what tools you need. And while everyone wants a healthier body, it’s just important to value your mental health.

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