Monday, August 24, 2015
It’s widely accepted in scientific circles that both a healthy mind and body are mutually beneficial. It’s not as simple as viewing physical symptoms like a broken leg as being ’all in your head’, but about understanding the ways in which emotions, beliefs, memories and attitudes can change your body and vice versa.
The brain and body work together, continuously sending messages to each other, so it’s no surprise that if one isn’t healthy, it affects the quality of the message being sent. This communication stream is vital to health and wellbeing. Looking after our mind can determine how our body deals with stressful situations and the physical response created. Even more, the way that our mind judges a situation can determine the responses triggered. For example, hearing a noise in your house at night might not phase you, however you could convince yourself there’s a burglar in the house and bring on an increased heart rate and sweating. Our thoughts can really impact our body.
Meditation gives your mind and body the chance to relax. One of the overarching benefits of meditation is its ability to reduce long-term stress. Studies have shown that meditating for around 8 weeks can begin to have an effect on the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in a person’s body. Researchers pitched two groups of people against each other in a multi-tasking exercise and those who had undertaken meditation for the weeks prior to this came out on top when carrying out more than one activity.
One of the necessary traits needed to be successful at meditating is the ability to focus for extended periods of time, so people who meditate regularly are able to focus their attention easily. This can lead to reduced stress levels because people will find completing tasks that require more concentration easier.
When we meditate, our mind begins to reduce tension it may be experiencing and we begin to feel more comfortable. This in turn has effects on the body, as the brain sends messages to the body to relax. A few of the short-term responses that can be experienced are a decreased heart rate, a slower breathing rate and consequently a reduction in blood pressure, all signs of being at ease. A study at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Boston found that if patients practiced a ‘relaxation response’ which is a method of meditation, their body was able to produce more nitric oxide. This expands blood vessels, so blood can flow easily, which means the heart requires less pressure to pump it.
There are lots of positive links between the mind and body. A group of studies have shown what can happen to genetic activity after long-term stress reduction; it can positively affect genes and proteins, such as telomerase, which plays an important part in the aging process.
Cortisol, the hormone released during stress has been found to trigger cravings for sugar and fat in recent studies. It can also increase how much fat tissue your body decides to keep. Therefore, stress can make you more susceptible to eating more than usual, so looking after your mental wellbeing means it’s easier to keep extra weight off.
Being able to relax properly is crucial when trying to get a good amount of sleep. Being in a state of hyperarousal because you can’t switch off can disrupt your sleeping pattern. Getting a good amount of sleep is important for long-term wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle.
Your skin can be prone to bouts of acne or other skin conditions, such as psoriasis, when enduring emotional distress, as the body releases more androgens. This has lead to medical professionals suggesting techniques to help decrease stress, along with medication.
Managing stress properly through mentally stimulating techniques has been shown to reduce the risk of strokes. Studies have shown that healthy individuals who encounter a period of stress within the past year are four times more likely to suffer a stroke. This can be linked to the high blood pressure caused by stress.
All in all, having a healthy mind can lead to a healthy immune system. Less stressed individuals have immune cells that are more sensitive to hormones that trigger inflammation, so they’re more likely to fight off illnesses, such as a common cold.