How Your Physical Health Relates to Your Mental Health
Aug 16, 2018
Brain health isn't a topic discussed often enough, particularly within the medical community. On the bright side, the topics of mental health and access to mental health services have come to light in the last few years. But, the aging brain is often left out of the conversation.
There are many unanswered questions about the decline in brain health with aging. The medical profession is starting to observe the differences in adults who experience brain atrophy and those who don’t. So, we're gaining some clarity. But, there's still so much we don't know.
The research identified some clear patterns in those who receive a diagnosis of dementia. But, keep in mind that patterns don't always give a clear cause. We know fall risk increases with increasing mental decline. We know poor mental health increases the risk of developing dementia. We know a connection exists between muscle weakness and dementia. What isn't as clear is why.
This is the 2nd part in a series on the connection between the brain and body. (here is part one).
So Next Up… Balance, Walking, and Brain Health
In Part One in our series on brain health, we covered the complex topic of chronic pain and it’s impact on the brain. The next topic in our series on movement and brain health is physical health.
And we'll start with balance. We’ve heard the term “balance” used in several different contexts in recent years. But today we're here to talk about your physical balance.
Balance is a complex interaction between your brain, how you sense your environment, and how your brain communicates this information with your body. Your brain uses your senses, like sight, sound, and sensation, to form a map of your physical position in space.
Using this information, your brain communicates with your body to keep you upright as you move through the world. A decline in any one or more of these systems leads to a balance problem (for more on the specifics of balance click here and here).
As we stated above, fall risk increases with increasing mental decline. In the sections below, we'll dive in a little further to help you use this information to your advantage. But for now, a little more information on how your balance is related to your brain...
Tapping into your balance systems gives a window to the brain. Staying engaged with your environment through movement is healthy stimulation for your mind. A lack of balance prevents you from being curious and interacting with your world.
Keeping your brain stimulated in a healthy way regenerates the cells of the brain. This, in turn, helps your brain maintain a strong connection with your body.
Let’s Talk About Falling
Part of the problem in identifying falls is the confusion around defining the term. A fall is any uncontrolled descent. Plopped into your chair? That was a fall. Trip but caught yourself on a piece of furniture? That was a fall too.
We all fall. Falling is a part of life as mobile human beings. It's when falls become too frequent or there is an inability to recover that we realize there's a problem.
Falling in older adults is a public health problem that has generated increasing awareness in recent years. But there are many ways to be more proactive about balance long before falls become a problem!
We'll talk about how you can assess your own balance. But after looking at the latest research on balance, walking, and brain health.
Fall Risk Increases with Increasing Mental Decline
Research found falls and balance problems increase with the severity of mental decline. This is due to a combination of impaired judgment, altered perception of the environment, and delayed balance reactions. Even those with a mild decline in thought processes have a decline in balance.
Walking Slows Long Before a Decline in Brain Health
Research also found walking speed is a powerful early predictor of mental decline. Walking speed is a good indicator of physical health. But it's also an indicator of how your nervous system is working. Walking speed declines even years before the onset of a decline in brain health.
To understand why this is happening, we need to talk about the functions of the brain. Your brain houses a set of mental skills to help you plan and organize complex tasks. This happens for all your daily tasks without your awareness.
Walking requires heavy involvement of these automatic mental skills of the brain. For most of us, we don’t even give walking a second thought because the skill is so ingrained in our brain. It's not until something is going wrong that we become aware of how complex this skill is.
Why Any of This Matters
So why should you care about these research findings? The connection between your mobility and brain health forms a cycle. Once your walking and balance start to become a problem, you're less likely to want to move around. In turn, this lack of movement leaves your brain lacking in health stimulation. This leads to a decline in brain health, complicating your walking and balance problems.
Trust us when we say you want to put a stop to this before it has a chance to start.
To make this point more clear, consider childhood development. Babies develop motor skills, like rolling, crawling, and walking because they're curious. Their senses drive their desire to explore the world, which wouldn't be possible without movement.
Their ability to explore their environment, in turn, supports their brain development. Without mobility, their learning abilities become impaired. This is why a delay in muscular development or sensory systems in children can turn into a developmental delay.
This connection between mobility and brain development is more obvious than in adults. But the same principles still apply.
We'll show you how to use this information to your benefit. By improving your physical health, you can prevent mental decline before it starts.
Turning Information into Action
So how can you turn this knowledge about balance, walking, and brain health into action? Simple, get moving! Any movement is good
And challenge your senses while you're moving. Bring mindfulness to your movement by exploring new environments. This maximizes the brain health benefits of movement.
And if you're not feeling so confident about your movement, see a physical or occupational therapist. They can provide you with an assessment and a customized action plan.
We hope you found this information informative. Tell us, how are you moving today?