Physical Therapist Discusses Methods to Increase Mental, Cverall Health

Staff Writer

Taking care of ones brain health can come in a lot of forms. There are many aspects that influence mental health and subsequently there are a lot of aspects that need to be addressed when trying to maintain it. According to Dr. Lisa Marino, good mental health also means a healthy body.

A doctor of physical therapy, Marino spoke to a group at Homan Interiors on Wednesday evening about some of the issues she sees with her patients and how mental health plays a factor in those problems. When individuals feel threatened, unsafe or overwhelmed, their heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, digestion slows down, muscle tension increases, higher levels of thinking are inhibited and memory is inhibited.

“If you’re constantly being in fear or feeling overwhelmed that part of our brain is shut down because what are we focused on? We’re focused on getting to safety and we’re focused on the threat that is in front of us,” she said. “We can’t attend to other level things that are going on when we have to be zeroed in on what that is.”

During her talk, Marino focused on two key areas to help individuals deal with fight, flight or freeze responses to stress: physical actions and spiritual actions.

Marino said it’s best to keep the body in homeostasis between the sympathetic response — fight, flight or freeze — and parasympathetic response — rest and digest. In order to do so, when fight, flight or freeze start to kick in, individuals need to find a way to disrupt that and bring themselves back down to where they are relaxed.

Physically, the three ways individuals can handle ongoing stressors is to implement movement, touch and breathing into daily life.

According to Marino, there are studies that have found that implementing just one hour a week of movement can be significant in preventing depression. It also helps reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation and stimulates the release of growth factors.

In order to be successful with movement, the physical therapist advised that first they must enjoy what they are doing otherwise they will build up a negative connotation with the movement.

“But you should be able to have a positive experience with what you’re doing and how you’re interacting otherwise you’re going to try to avoid it all the time,” she said.

Movement can come in many forms such as walking or it could be dancing, riding a bike and other programs. It should also be pain free and fit comfortably into their daily schedule.

Touch is something she said is a growing topic in the medical field. She talked about a study that said American’s don’t hug nearly as much as other countries, which she found interesting.

“We need that connection,” she said. “It also influences our brain and how we experience the world too.”

Touch can help reduce cardiovascular stress, release oxytocin — a bonding hormone — and lowers cortisol. It also helps individuals relax, make emotional connections and reduce symptoms of depression.

And lastly, she talked about deep breathing — which she tied into the spiritual aspect of maintaining positive mental health.

“Breathing with a deep diaphragmatic breath again influences and retrains our brain to kick into the rest and digest of the parasympathetic,” Marino said. “The neurons are literally wired in the lower abdomen.”

She encouraged attendees to use deep breathing exercises as moments to say little prayers such as “Mary” — breath in — “pray for me” — breathe out.

The breathe prayer promotes rest and digest associated with a parasympathetic response, she said. It allows for individuals to address fear, unforgiveness and worry and, according to Marino, when in a constant state of stress they are not living in God’s kingdom.

Overall, she encouraged individuals to focus on one of the three methods in the beginning.

“Once you can figure that out … focus on one thing and from there move on to the next and the next,” she said. “Anytime we’re making a lifestyle change, you’ve got to start with one thing.”