Healthy Mind, Healthy Body: Fight Depression to Fight Illness

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:

  • Tell fewer lies! The truth will set you free. Research from the University of Notre Dame found that telling fewer lies – even little white lies – is connected to better health. Americans lie an average of 11 times a week. Researchers got a sample of 110 people to stop lying for 10 weeks; they noticed their physical and mental health get significantly better and saw their personal relationships improve.
  • Get some music therapy! Since ancient times, music has been used to heal both the body and soul. Now, multiple research studies have proven the effects of music on both depression and anxiety – in addition to high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and even cancer. Listening to music, especially slow and calming music, has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. A University of Miami study gave regular, healthy adults music therapy and found lower levels of depression and fatigue after 6 weeks.
  • Meditate mindfully! Every day, my team at The Dr. Oz Show participates in a meditation session. It gives them a chance to recover and regroup after a busy day of production. They are extremely dedicated to meditating – and it’s paid off for all of us. Meditation has worked to reduce stress levels for thousands of years, so why wouldn’t it work for you? Need some pointers? Dr. Mao Shing Ni describes three easy steps for starting your meditation practice, which involves calming the mind and relaxing your body.

Whatever you have to do to keep your spirits up, do it. It may just save your life!