17 / 02 / 2020 – 3 min read
Mind and Body: The Connection Between Mental Health and Physical Therapies
Thankfully, the idea that the mind and body are separate is on its way out the door. This recent shift in ideology, back to a more holistic view, is also partly responsible for the greater media attention around exercise and mental health.
Where once practitioners had clearly delineated focuses, now there’s a much larger amount of crossover and job roles are shifting to represent that. As more and more studies show that mental health is linked to physical movement and vice versa, it’s becoming common for practitioners to prescribe exercising outdoors.
If you want to know more about how your practice can help the mental health of your patients, stay with us. We’ll be looking at how physical therapies can play a considerable role in the mental health of everyone who walks through your door.
Our Sedentary World
Over 20 million people in the UK are classed as physically inactive. For reference, we only have a population of 66 million. That’s not far off a third of UK citizens not meeting the minimum government guidelines for physical activity each week.
This problem isn’t news to physical therapists or anyone working in the fitness space, sedentary clients walk through their doors every day.
In the 1970s, just 2 out of 10 American workers were in roles that required only light physical activity. Now physically active jobs account for less than 20% of American roles. It’s not much better for Europeans, where 39% of us spend our working days sitting down.
We’ve all become more sedentary and it’s giving our bodies hell. With an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer, sitting down all the time is not good news. With poor sitting posture and weak muscles, being sedentary is causing more and more people to require physical therapy.
So what does this inactivity have to do with mental health?
Mental Health and Physical Activity
The more doctors and movement specialists research this subject, the more ways they find that movement aids mental health.
Sleep is a key way that keeping physically active can help manage mental health issues. Getting active plays a role in the body’s natural circadian rhythm and helps us achieve better sleep quality. As sleep quality has a direct effect on our energy levels and mood, the better sleep you have, the better mental health you could experience.
Chronic stress keeps our bodies in a fight or flight mode, making us feel anxious without an obvious reason. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce this sympathetic nervous system response, tuning your body into when this response is actually required. With less sympathetic reactivity, anxiety levels reduce.
As exercise strengthens all parts of the body and supports the immune system, those who engage in enough movement also tend to be physically healthier. Without the stress of physical ailments, combined with the myriad benefits of exercise, mental health issues can be managed far more effectively.
Physical practitioners can play a role in helping patients manage their mental health, as well as their physical health. There’s a growing body of research in physiotherapy for mental health, for instance.
Practitioners’ Role in Mental Health Support
When the physiotherapist Brendon Stubbs qualified, mental health work wasn’t even on his radar. He fell into a role at a mental health hospital, never having considered it as an area of physiotherapy before.
His interest in the connection grew as he watched how patients changed dramatically with even short bouts of physical activity. From there, he’s gone on to do a vast amount of research in the connection between mental health and physical activity, showing how exercise cuts depression rates.
In a recent interview with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee on his podcast, Feel Better Live More, Stubbs describes how the proof is there but there’s still an alarming lack of education amongst physical therapists and other healthcare practitioners.
Physical practitioners may also be in a prime position to spot the signs on mental health issues in the first place. As many sedentary people attend physiotherapy and other types of therapy appointments, practitioners can keep an eye out for indications that there’s something else involved.
As sedentary people are more like to suffer from anxiety and depression, paying attention and learning how to manage the situation could provide your patients with considerable support.
A Multi-Faceted Approach
Every patient will be different, with a unique set of needs. What’s clear though, is that the link between mental health and physical activity is intrinsically human.
If we are to thrive, we need to maintain a pursuit of physical activity in a way accessible for us and seek professional help where necessary. For some people, exercise plus calming therapies such as acupuncture or massage might be the perfect balance.
Acupuncture can be used to reduce discomfort and prevent it from being a barrier to physical activity. Used for many conditions such as headaches and lower back pain, by treating your patient’s physical symptoms, they can build their physical activity and support their mental health.
A Holistic View of Mental Health and Physical Activity
There is a strong, proven link between physical activity and mental health, leading to increased crossover in various healthcare roles. While many practitioners are focused their specialities, knowing what to look out for can change the lives of your patients.
Identifying mental health issues such as depression in patients that attend physical therapy appointments, can set them on a path of management and recovery that otherwise they might’ve missed.
The more we all acknowledge the importance of holistic healthcare, the more we will be able to effectively support those in need of help.
If you’re looking for clinic supplies such as resistance bands or acupuncture needles, get in touch with us today. We supply the highest quality equipment and supplies so you can get on with what you do best – helping other people.