371 Mental & Physical Health

Research by Niles, Andrea. N., & O’Donovan, Aoife. (2019).

Written by Shannon Cantalupo, B.S. 

We often hear, “Watch your weight or quit smoking because it’s bad for your physical health.” Have you ever heard, “Seek help for your anxiety or depression because it’s bad for your physical health?” Researchers wanted to know whether anxiety and depression were predictors of poor physical health compared to obesity and smoking. And, whether independently, anxiety and depression were unique predictors of poor physical health.

They analyzed a database of over 15,000 participants from the Health and Retirement Study funded by the National Institute on Aging.  Each participant took assessments twice during four years on measures of their anxiety, depression, body mass index, medical illnesses (e.g., stroke, cancer, diabetes) and somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches, dizziness, stomach problems).  

Results? Anxiety and depression were great predictors of most medical illnesses and somatic symptoms. Anxiety and depression were separate, unique predictors, as strong or stronger than obesity and smoking.

Next time you have a physical complaint and cannot figure out why, try checking on your mental health! Seek help for mental health issues, anxiety, and depression, often the cause of medical illness and somatic symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about your mental health!  


Niles, A. N., & O’Donovan, A. (2019). Comparing anxiety and depression to obesity and smoking as predictors of major medical illnesses and somatic symptoms. Health Psychology, 38(2), 172 – 181.


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