An Integrated Approach to Mental Health and Physical Health of Teenagers

From the negative impact stress has on one’s health to the positive correlation between exercise and mood, scientific researchers now believe that mental health and physical health are intricately connected. The rise in mind-body connection research brings the linked interplay between mental health and physical health to the forefront of academic and professional discussions, supporting its legitimacy. The role of nutrition in mental health and the psychological benefits of physical activity are key findings from these scientific studies.

This connection between the mental and physical goes both ways, whereby one’s physical health can influence one’s mental health and vice versa. This connection is especially important in the formative teenage years when bodies are changing, and hormones are developing. For example, teenage stress associated with social media pressure or cyberbullying can have a negative impact on a teenager’s physical health. Further, a teenager who develops a healthy, balanced mind-body connection, through exercise, nutrition, and enough sleep, can see a positive impact later in their adult years.

Role of Nutrition in Mental Health and the Gut Biome

When it comes to understanding the connection between mental health and physical health, science is making remarkable breakthroughs. Every human body is full of trillions of bacteria. They are collectively known as the microbiome. While some bacteria are associated with disease, others play a crucial role in bolstering the immune system, maintaining weight, and aiding many other aspects of health.

An essential part of the microbiome is the gut biome in the intestines, which aids in the processing and digestion of food. Beyond digestion, the gut biome also affects the central nervous system, which controls the brain. According to a 2018 research study in the United States Library of Medicine, the following is true:

“Research into the gut microbiome has started to unsettle the narrow focus for mental health above the neckline. The observed links between disturbance of the gut microbiome (dysbiosis) and stress, anxiety, and depression have shifted the research ground for mental disorder.”

Indeed, eating regular balanced meals consisting of whole foods including proteins and vegetables can have a positive effect on the mental health of a teenager. Research on the gut biome also shows that eating healthy can help reduce teenage stress. Beyond the role of nutrition in mental health, science also champions the psychological benefits of physical activity in mental health.

Psychological Benefits of Physical Activity – Exercise and Mood

Integrated approaches to mental health and physical health for teenagers emphasize the essential role of physical fitness for teenage health. The psychological benefits of physical activity are evident across many aspects of a teenager’s life, as noted below:

  1. Healthier sleep patterns without insomnia
  2. Better appetites for regular meals
  3. Less Depression and Anxiety
  4. More energy during the day
  5. Improved concentration and focus
  6. Greater socialization

Not only does exercise improve issues with anxiety and depression, but it also has a positive impact on the social aspects of a teenager’s life. That is because being physically active on a sports team builds teamwork and helps develop friendships.  In addition to the correlation between exercise and mood, physical activity can benefit the relationship between teenagers and sleep. After all, parents can understand the challenge of having teenagers stay up all night, then not wanting to get up in the morning, leading to a more stressful start to the day. Hence, an unbalanced correlation between teenagers and sleep leads to teenage stress and resultant health issues. By teenagers embracing physical activity, it results in better sleep patterns which in turn leads to less stress on the mind.

As researchers now know, “A deep body of evidence has linked physical and mental well-being to one another. Better physical health helps alleviate the symptoms of depression, while mental health disorders can also lead to worsened physical health. This relationship means that staying physically healthy is extremely important.”

The question is, how can we make this happen?

Finding the Balance Between Mental Health and Physical Health

Parents can improve their teen’s mental health and physical health by talking openly about some of the recent studies regarding the connection between the mental and physical. By noting the recommendations made by these studies, it provides a blueprint for a teenager to take proactive steps to find the balance between their mental and physical well-being.

After all, teenagers are just like adults. Ultimately, they want to be healthy and feel better. Here are some suggestions to present to a teenager that may lead to improvements in mental health and physical health:

  1. Find a Balance Between Mental Activities and Physical Activities
    Don’t spend all day working out or reading a book. Instead, balance mental activities and physical activities. For example, take a break from homework to take a walk in a park on a nice day.
  2. A Calm Mind Leads to a Relaxed Body
    Tension and stress are challenges for both the mind and the body. By using meditation and breathing techniques, you can calm the mind, thus relaxing the body. There are several different guided meditation apps available such as Calm or Headspace that can allow you to meditate on the go.
  3. Proper Nutrition Equals a Big Win
    Proper nutrition is essential. Meals should be made up of fresh produce, whole foods, protein, and healthy fats. This can be difficult given the fast food industry and heavily processed foods available to teenagers. However, by eating healthy, it improves both physical and mental well-being.
  4. Express Feelings Appropriately and Avoid Keeping It All In
    Too many people suppress their true feelings, thus they may build resentment toward others which could compromise their mental health. Hence, expression of emotions in a healthy manner is key. Meaning in a clear and calm manner rather than through screaming in a heated moment. If a teenager needs help with this, consider consulting a professional.
  5. Limit Screen Time and Encourage Real-Life Interactions
    Nowadays, technology has become a double-edged sword, both helping and hurting society at the same time. Teenagers today may not be able to recount times when mobile phones weren’t an integral part of life. Hence, they are significantly more tied to their phones, especially in the current era of social media, during a vital developmental stage of their life. Parents should encourage teenagers to take breaks from their phones and have more interactions in real life. For example, setting aside the video games and suggesting to friends to play basketball in the local park. Digital interactions can become unhealthy if they replace real life interactions.

By following some of these recommendations, there is much room for improvement in a teen’s mental health and physical health. Indeed, if teens feel better and their health improves, they may be more willing to follow guidelines such as these and listen to their parents. This can hopefully lead to both short- and long-term positive results for teenagers.

The Powerful Science of the Mind-Body Connection Research

Mind-body connection research goes in both directions. Thus, positive mental health leads to positive physical health and vice versa. Also, negative mental health leads to negative physical health and vice versa. It’s a concerning proposition as detailed below:

“Mental health plays a major role in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, affect people’s ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors. In turn, problems with physical health, such as chronic diseases, can have a serious impact on mental health and decrease a person’s ability to participate in treatment and recovery.”

Therefore, the mental health and physical health of teenagers is a top priority. Ultimately, the stakes are high for young people. Good mental health and physical health have current benefits but also lead to future success and fulfillment later in adulthood. Adopting good habits at a young age can reap rewards for years to come.

Featured Image by Retha Ferguson from Pexels