The connection between physical and mental health

Generally speaking; individuals experiencing mental health conditions will also be experiencing some elements of poor physical health, and vice versa.


According to data from AIHW, Australia’s Health 2016 national report card; mental health conditions were reported as a co-morbidity among:
  • 36% of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • 30% of people with back pain and problems
  • 29% of people with asthma
And those suffering from a mental illness:
  • Are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from diabetes than the general population
  • Almost four times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  • Coronary heart disease carries the independent risk factor of depression; which can affect the recovery of those with CVD and increase the risk of future heart problems.


These physical health implications on those living with a mental illness is due in part to the side effects of medication, and a range of lifestyle factors such as poor diet and low levels of physical activity. Given this well known relationship between physical and mental health, it is imperative that individuals living with a mental health condition receive a multidisciplinary treatment to enhance their quality of life and improve their physical and mental health outcomes.

The high risk of poor physical health in those with a serious mental illness is acknowledged as one of the major reasons for high mortality rates. The relative risk of death is estimated to be 2.2 times higher in people with mental disorders compared to the general population and this is largely due to chronic physical health rather than the mental health issues.

There is mounting evidence that suggests exercise is an effective treatment method for people suffering from acute and chronic mental illness, with some studies suggesting that exercise is just as effective, if not more effective than medication in alleviating depressive symptoms.

In populations with mental illness; regular physical activity prescribed by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist has been shown to:
• Improve cardio-respiratory fitness and reduce all-cause mortality risk
• Help control weight gain induced by medication
• Improve chronic disease outcomes (especially type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease)
• Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety
• Improve sleep quality and increase self-esteem

It can take time for the benefits of exercise to be noticeable. Most studies show a significant reduction in depressive symptoms after eight weeks. By introducing exercise interventions for those with mental health issues; evidence shows that there can be significant improvements in physical and mental health, with some studies suggesting that exercise is just as, if not more effective than medication in alleviating depressive symptoms. However it can be more difficult for those experiencing mental illness to initiate and maintain an exercise program due to the complex nature.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists are qualified to provide evidence-based exercise interventions to individuals at high risk of developing, or with existing, chronic and complex medical conditions and injuries.