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Throughout history, men have often been characterized as the physically stronger sex. Strength, fitness, and stamina are sometimes unfairly valued over other qualities in men. While most men are familiar with the importance of physical health and exercise, not all are aware of the important link between physical and mental health. As Men’s Health Month continues this June, Screening for Mental Health is working to draw awareness to this connection within the male population.

According to a recent study from Oregon State University, people who experience a physical health problem like diabetes, joint pain, or heart disease, are three times more likely to seek mental health care than those with no physical issues.

The connection between physical and mental health works both ways. Physical illness not only leads to certain mood disorders–the opposite can also occur. While a depressed mood is thought to contribute to the development and progression of some medical illnesses, physical illness can trigger or increase the risk of depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can co-occur with other medical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have also found evidence that stress, emotional distress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder can all weaken the immune system and disrupt the balance of hormones in the body.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Patients with type II diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression as the general population.
  • Patients suffering from mental illness are twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as other people.
  • Up to 50 percent of cancer patients suffer from a mental illness, especially depression and anxiety, and treating symptoms of depression in cancer patients may improve survival time.
  • In patients who are depressed, the risk of having a heart attack is more than twice as high as in the general population
  • Treating the symptoms of depression after a heart attack has been shown to lower both mortality and re-hospitalization rates.

Fortunately, exercise is a great way to improve both your physical and mental health. In fact, a recent study in England is adding to the already overwhelming evidence of the benefits of exercise. In the study, those who exercised reported fewer symptoms of depression than sedentary participants. The more the study participants exercised, the more their depression symptoms decreased. Researchers determined that an inactive adult who starts exercising three times a week can cut his or her risk of depression by 19 percent.

While exercise is an excellent way to improve physical and mental health, it is not a substitution for professional mental health care. If you are concerned about your mental health and the effects it may be having on your body, it is important to seek help from your doctor. Being truly healthy requires a healthy body and mind.

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