The relationship between physical health and mental health

We talk about physical and mental health as two separate entities, but they are very are closely interconnected and affect each other through a number of ways. 

Living with a long-term physical health condition, for example, can have a serious impact on mental wellbeing. In fact, nearly one in three people with a chronic physical health condition also have a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety (1). This is due to a number of reasons including pain and the psychological effects of living with a physical condition that may affect appearance or reduce a persons physical capabilities (2).

Similarly, those who are experiencing mental health issues are also more likely to have poor physical health. For example, people with depression have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke (3). The reasons for which are complex, and in part due to the fact that people with depression may have less access to good medical care and find it more challenging to look after their health (e.g. taking medication and exercising) (4). However, it also appears to be due to the direct effects of chronic stress on the body which impact many organ systems in the body including the heart and blood vessels and the immune system (3). 

That said, just as our mental and physical health can have a negative impact on one another – they can positively influence each other – so what you do for your body to stay physically healthy (such as staying active and eating a healthy diet) can also support your mental wellbeing. 

Here are some ways we can support our mental day-to-day:


The gut-brain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain. One way this may manifest is the “butterflies” in your stomach that you experience when nervous or excited. However, not only does your brain have an impact on your gut health, but your gut, and the food that you eat, influences the brain – and your mood. It’s not as simple as eat this not that for better mental health but the diet which seems to come out on top, when it comes to reducing the risk and perhaps even reducing the symptoms of depression, is a high fibre Mediterranean diet (5). Think colourful fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes, olive oil, fish and seafood, with moderate amounts of dairy and lower intakes of red and processed meat. 


Regular physical activity is not only beneficial for long-term physical health and longevity, but reduces the risk of anxiety and depression also. A landmark study of over 33,000 people, followed them up after 11 years to find out if exercise provides protection against depression, and if so, what intensity and total amount of exercise is required to gain protection? The answer to the first question was yes, and what was even more encouraging is that the found that even as little as 1 hour a week could prevent 12% of future cases of depression (6). Ideally, for both our physical and mental health, we want to be moving everyday but it’s reassuring to know that every little counts. The Whoop strain coach can be a helpful guide to understanding how much you should exety yourself based on your recovery and the strain from the day you’ve already accumulated – so you know when you can push harder or when you should dial it back to lower-intensity movement. 


Depression can lead to disrupted sleep, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking early – but it can also go the other way and lead to not being able to get out of bed. At the same time, lack of sleep can also increase the risk of depression and make symptoms worse (7). Priortising your sleep hygiene routine, particularly during stressful periods, may help to offset the risk of poor mental health. If you want to further understand the relationship between your sleep, recovery and mental health WHOOP have just introduced a new mental health survey feature, accessible from the WHOOP journal, which will show the relationship of your mental health to recovery and logged behaviours. 


When discussing health interventions, we often overlook the people in our lives and our relationships when in fact social connection has been found to be the most important protective factor when it comes to depression (8). This isn’t about having loads of friends, but really feeling connected and supported by the people around you. Think quality, not quantity.


Mindfulness based therapies are used as a treatment for certain mental health problems including anxiety and depression. This involves paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. In fact, in a small pilot study, a breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga, helped to improve symptoms in people with severe depression (9)

Please note If you are concerned that you are developing a mental health problem you should seek the advice and support of your GP as a matter of priority. If you are in distress and need immediate help and are unable to see a GP, you should visit your local A&E or call 999. Here are some services and organisations that offer help and support directly to people with mental health problems. 

This article was sponsored by WHOOP.
To Join WHOOP and start tracking your sleep and recovery please visit here.


  1. Naylor C, Parsonage M, McDaid D, Knapp M, Fossey M, Galea A (2012). Report. Long-term conditions and mental health. The cost of co- morbiditiesThe King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health
  2. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Depression in Adults with a Chronic Physical Health Problem: Treatment and Management. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society (UK); 2010. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 91.) 2, DEPRESSION IN ADULTS WITH A CHRONIC PHYSICAL HEALTH PROBLEM. Available from:
  3. Penninx, B.W., Milaneschi, Y., Lamers, F. et al. Understanding the somatic consequences of depression: biological mechanisms and the role of depression symptom profile. BMC Med 11, 129 (2013).
  4. National Institute of Mental Health (2021). Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Recognizing and Treating Depression. Accessed 05/05/2022. Available:
  5. Shafiei F, Salari-Moghaddam A, Larijani B, Esmaillzadeh A. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and risk of depression: a systematic review and updated meta-analysis of observational studies. Nutr Rev. 2019 Apr 1;77(4):230-239. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy070. Erratum in: Nutr Rev. 2019 Jun 1;77(6):454. PMID: 30726966.
  6. Harvey SB, Øverland S, Hatch SL, Wessely S, Mykletun A, Hotopf M. Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. Am J Psychiatry. 2018 Jan 1;175(1):28-36. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223. Epub 2017 Oct 3. PMID: 28969440.
  7. Firth, J., Solmi, M., Wootton, R. E., Vancampfort, D., Schuch, F. B., Hoare, E., Gilbody, S., Torous, J., Teasdale, S. B., Jackson, S. E., Smith, L., Eaton, M., Jacka, F. N., Veronese, N., Marx, W., Ashdown-Franks, G., Siskind, D., Sarris, J., Rosenbaum, S., Carvalho, A. F., … Stubbs, B. (2020). A meta-review of “lifestyle psychiatry”: the role of exercise, smoking, diet and sleep in the prevention and treatment of mental disorders. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 19(3), 360–380.
  8. Choi KW, Stein MB, Nishimi KM, Ge T, Coleman JRI, Chen CY, Ratanatharathorn A, Zheutlin AB, Dunn EC; 23andMe Research Team; Major Depressive Disorder Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, Breen G, Koenen KC, Smoller JW. An Exposure-Wide and Mendelian Randomization Approach to Identifying Modifiable Factors for the Prevention of Depression. Am J Psychiatry. 2020 Oct 1;177(10):944-954. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.19111158. Epub 2020 Aug 14. PMID: 32791893.
  9. Sharma A, Barrett MS, Cucchiara AJ, Gooneratne NS, Thase ME. A Breathing-Based Meditation Intervention for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder Following Inadequate Response to Antidepressants: A Randomized Pilot Study. J Clin Psychiatry. 2017 Jan;78(1):e59-e63. doi: 10.4088/JCP.16m10819. PMID: 27898207; PMCID: PMC5272872.

The relationship between physical health and mental health was last modified: May 14th, 2022 by hazel

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