Why do I do yoga every day? Not only does it keep my body in shape, the required mental focus relaxes me and keeps my mind healthy. I’ve always felt that what I do on a daily basis will benefit my mind and body down the line. This has become, in a way, conventional wisdom, but science has set out to prove it once again.
A recent study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) revealed that healthy minds lead to healthy bodies after discovering a connection between psychological distress and premature death. Whether you keep your mind healthy with yoga, music, talking to friends, or seeing a mental-health professional, it can all be a wise investment that can lengthen your lifespan.
The researchers in this study kept track of 68,222 healthy adults for 8 years and found that those with lower levels of confidence and higher levels of anxiety, depression, worthlessness, and social dysfunction had a significantly higher risk of death from all causes – including heart-related and cancer-related causes. The thousands of surveyed persons who had died from cardiovascular disease or cancer reportedly had no history of disease from the beginning, but developed it later.
The study assessed psychological distress with a General Health Questionnaire, a simple 12-question survey that assessed if participants had ever lost sleep over worry, considered themselves reasonably happy, or constantly felt under strain. Interestingly, many of the adults who were considered psychologically distressed never received help from a mental-health professional – mostly because there wasn’t an urgent need for one.
Mental health is a controversial concept. However, most mental health professionals agree that it involves some level of self-awareness. However, not everyone needs to sit on a shrink’s couch to keep their mental health in check. The American Psychiatric Association gives tips for those who want to do a mental self-check.
The first thing to assess is your ability to sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it may be a sign of emotional distress. Many studies have connected the benefits of good sleep hygiene with mental health. Another important thing to assess is your stress level. If you feel tense all the time or find it hard to unwind at the end of the day, your body may be telling you to find better ways to keep your mind healthy.
In addition to yoga, to keep my mind healthy I always take a little time to unwind at the end of the day. I spend time with my wife Lisa and my kids – when they aren’t too busy to hang out with their old dad. Playing fetch with my black lab Rosie in our backyard or taking her for a walk also helps me unwind. I feed off her enthusiasm. In fact, owning a pet has been shown to help fight depression. Even petting your animal has been clinically proven to increase serotonin levels, which helps to elevate your mood. Another valuable thing I did this summer to keep my spirits up for Season 4 was visit to Europe with my family. (But, I’ll tell you more about that in a later blog post.)
Here are some other things you can do to improve your mental health and lengthen your lifespan:
Whatever you have to do to keep your spirits up, do it. It may just save your life!