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Is our obsession with physical fitness harming our mental health?

People are constantly looking for fun and easy ways to stay fit. From Zumba® and pilates to paleo and no-carb diets, there’s never a shortage of fitness trends these days. Similarly, the apparel industry has seen a surge in demand for athleisure wear as people strive to incorporate more comfort and movement into their lives. Grocery stores are stocking their shelves in tandem, by offering a growing number of healthy snacks, vitamins, and supplements to their customers. With this push toward healthier choices affecting nearly every aspect of our lives, it’s awesome to see how much of a priority physical well-being has become. But if the goal is to maximize vigor and vitality, why aren’t we also fussing over our mental health?

Out of sight, out of mind

Unlike a six-pack or bulging biceps, you can’t really see what a healthy mind looks like. This helps to explain why mental health is widely taken for granted. Chances are you haven’t given your own mental health much thought unless mental illness has touched you personally. Does your doctor ask you about it at your annual check-up? While breaking news stories are effective for rousing public conversation about mental health, they often do so in a sensationalized and inaccurate way. This leads people to mistakenly believe mental illness consists solely of serious conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. We forget that depression and anxiety are mental illnesses too, and although they aren’t as provocative, they’re far more common.

Mental health is inextricably tied to total well-being

It’s crucial that we start thinking about mental wellness when we talk about “health”. Many people don’t realize just how intensely their physical health is affected by their state of mind. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, among other things, your mental health can greatly impact the following:

  • Blood pressure
  • Hormonal balances
  • Sleep quality
  • Pain management
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Arthritis
  • Risk of certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke

This means even if you ate like a nutritionist and hit the gym like a professional athlete, your efforts could be dampened if you have poor mental health.

Stigma is a massive barrier

If you asked anyone about their mental health, they’d likely tell you it’s fine and quickly change the subject. Unfortunately, most people are still very uncomfortable about discussing mental health. They’ll talk at length about their weight loss journey or why they love carbo-loading, but because there’s such a deep-rooted stigma surrounding mental disorders they might be inclined to clam up when asked about it.

Why do we live in a society where it’s okay to openly discuss liposuction and crash dieting, yet bringing up therapy is frowned upon? The main reason is there’s a lot of misinformation about mental illness. People think it’s a sign of weakness or failure. They worry there’s no cure, or that techniques like therapy and meditation are too new-age to be effective. Another misconception is that these conditions are self-inflicted when in fact illnesses like PTSD arise from environmental and/or circumstantial experiences. These uninformed attitudes are dangerous and pose considerable barriers for those seeking support and treatment.

Start exercising your mind

Just like your body, your mind may begin to deteriorate if you don’t look after it. Mental illnesses can and do get worse without proper intervention, but the good news is there are many proactive measures you can take to keep your mind sharp—including reading, doing puzzles, and even exercising! We will explore more ways of promoting mental health in an upcoming blog post, but in the meantime here’s some further reading for you. If you’d like even more resources log into your LifeSpeak account, or book a demo with us if you don’t have one.