Heard of the adage "healthy mind, healthy body". New research is reinforcing that, particularly for adolescents for whom emotional well-being impacts physical health greatly.
Happier youths are also healthier youths, according to Emily Shaffer-Hudkins and her team, from the University of South Florida in the US.
Adolescents' positive emotions and moods, as well as their satisfaction with life, could be more important than their anxiety or depression levels for predicting their physical health, they argue.
Looking at teenagers' so-called 'subjective well-being' could help identify those likely to develop health problems in the future and target them with appropriate prevention strategies.
To date, the majority of the research looking at the relationship between mental health and physical health in young people has focused primarily on how symptoms of poor mental health, or psychopathology, such as anxiety and depression, relate to physical functioning.
This approach fails to take into account the potential influence of positive indicators of mental health, such as positive emotions and mood states and life satisfaction, known as subjective well-being.
Shaffer-Hudkins' study is the first to look at both positive and negative indicators of mental health in relation to physical health in a sample of 401 students in grades 6-8 from a suburban southeastern middle school in the United States.
The teenagers rated their satisfaction with life, whether they had recently felt excited, strong and proud (positive affect) as well as lonely, guilty and sad (negative affect).
They were also asked about feeling withdrawn, anxious and depressed and about delinquent and aggressive behavior (all indicators of psychopathology). Finally, they told researchers about their physical health.
Overall, perceived good physical health was strongly linked to life satisfaction and feeling excited, strong and proud. Those who said they felt lonelier, guiltier, more anxious and depressed and who were more likely to display undesirable behaviors reported being less healthy physically.
The work has been published in Springer's journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.