So said, Mahatma Gandhi. Health psychology is a specialty area that does focus on how biology, psychology, behaviour, and social factors do influence the overall health and more so illness. 

Other terms such as medical psychology and the behavioural medicine are often used interchangeably with the term health psychology.

Please note: Health and illness are commonly influenced by a wide variety of factors.

While the contagious illness and hereditary illness are common, many behavioural and psychological factors can impact the overall physical well-being and in turn various medical conditions.

The concise field of health psychology is focused on promoting health as well as the prevention and treatment of disease and more so illness. It is the Health psychologists that focus on understanding how people react to, cope with, and in turn recover from an illness or a disease.  

Illnesses or Diseases that are Related to the Psychological and the Behavioural Factors are as below:
• Stroke
• Heart disease
• Cancer
• Birth defects and infant mortality
• Infectious diseases

In health psychology is the division that leads towards focussing on a better understanding of health plus illness, by way of studying the psychological factors that do impact health, and contribute towards the health care system and in turn the complete health policy. By looking over the several patterns of determining behaviour that do underlie the disease and eventually death, health psychologists hope to help people live better, and more so lead clearly healthier, lives.

How Is Health Psychology Unique?
Health psychology does strongly emphasize on how behaviour influences health, it is all well positioned to help people change the behaviours that do contribute towards health and well-being. For example, it is when the psychologists working in this field do conduct and manage applied research on how to prevent unhealthy behaviours such as that of smoking and go on to look for new ways to encourage healthy actions such as exercising and meditating.

While most people do realize that eating a diet high in sugar is not good for their health, many people continue to engage in such addictive plus compulsive behaviours regardless of the possible short-term and long-term consequences that do curtail in such times. Health psychologists look at the several psychological factors that do influence such health choices and explore the ways to motivate people to make better health choices.  

It has been concisely observed that it is the people that die first are from a heart disease plus stroke. In such a case more than a quarter of such deaths are preventable. Cancer remains a close second; following chronic lower respiratory diseases, primarily chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) such as that of emphysema and chronic bronchitis; followed by drug poisonings including overdoses and then the fatal falls among an increasingly elder population.  This makes Health Psychology Unique!

Current Issues in Health Psychology
Health psychologists work with mostly individuals, then again with groups, and communities in order to decrease the risk factors, improve the overall health, and in turn reduce illness or disease. They often do conduct research and do provide complete services in areas including:
• Stress reduction
• Weight management
• Smoking cessation
• Improving daily nutrition
• Reducing risky sexual behaviours
• Hospice care and grief counselling
• Preventing illness

Please understand: The main approach used in health psychology is known as the Biosocial Model. According to this view, it is the illness and health that are the hard bound results of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. 

Let us look closely at this bifurcation closely:
• Biological factors do include inherited personality traits and genetic conditions.
• Psychological factors do involve lifestyle, personality characteristics, and stress levels.
• Social factors go on to include things such as the social support systems, family relationships, and cultural beliefs.

Health Psychology in Practice (Practical Application)
Health psychology is a very rapidly growing field. As increasing numbers of people do seek to take control of their own health, more and more people are seeking the health-related information and resources. Health psychologists are duly focused on educating people about their own health and well-being, so they are perfectly suited to fill this very rising demand.

Many health psychologists work specifically in the various areas of prevention, focusing on helping people stop the health problems before they actually start. This may include helping people to maintain a healthy weight, avoid risky or unhealthy behaviours, and maintain a highly positive outlook that can combat stress, anxiety and depression.

Another way in which all the health psychologists can help is by educating and training other health professionals.

 By way of incorporating knowledge from the health psychology perspective, physicians, nurses, nutritionists, and other health practitioners can better incorporate the psychological approaches into how they go on to treat patients. It is certainly well known that conditions such as obesity may lead to physical chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes or even Cardiovascular disease, but what about their inherent impact on mental health? How does one define that?

Please pay close attention that it is in the world of psychiatry from where the functioning of the body to operate separately from that of the mind is possible. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that the body and the mind work together in a bidirectional nature, as seen in systems such as the gut-brain axis and even chronic diseases such as obesity.

While it was once thought that the body fat was simply a means for the body to store excess energy, we now know that fat is actually biologically active endocrine tissue.

This implies that instead of simply taking up space, it is the synthesises and amalgam that secretes substances such as hormones and inflammatory mediators.

These do play a crucial role not only in energy balance but also affect other systems and conditions such as immunity and more so mental health. This makes Obesity a common variable of interest in the field of mental health research and more so in Health Psychology.

Obesity and Depression

It is a no-brainer that depression can lead to a reduced interest in the physical health, and when your ability to be physically or even mentally active is at an all-time low, healthy behaviours may not be an option anymore. With this very cultivation of lifestyle changes body fat may increase and in turn lead to obesity. 

There is certainly a bidirectional relationship between depression and obesity. Yes, depression can go on to affect obesity, but it is obesity that can also affect depression. One possible mechanism to explain this is that those substances secreted by the fat tissue do cause inflammation, which plays a role in the development of depression.

Inflammation as the first step of action
Obesity places the body under chronic stress which does activate aspects of both the innate and adaptive immune systems. This leads to production of increased levels of circulating pro-inflammatory substances called adipokines which have been found to relate to mental health. In fact, certain studies have also found anti-inflammatory medications to be effective for the treatment of depression, and conversely treatment of other conditions with pro-inflammatory medications have caused depressive side-effects. 

Though, the findings from various studies are not always in agreement, so there is still more work to be done in this particular area before there is a consensus on whether the anti-inflammatory medications maybe a viable therapeutic option for depression.

Structural changes: the next step: So, how exactly do these circulating inflammatory substances impact the brain to promote depression? One explanation may be by causing structural changes in the brain. 

A reduction in the hippocampus and amygdala has been observed in people with Type 2 diabetes (which can occur as a result of obesity) and it is these brain regions which have been associated with depression.

The Bottom Line
Well, like most emerging health research it is not straight-forward and there is still more to discover. Keeping body fat within a healthy range through lifestyle choices such as reducing alcohol, processed foods, sedentary behaviour, and consuming nutrient-rich wholefoods is always the recommended advice. 

Keeping body fat at healthy levels may also help to reduce chronic inflammation, which is a risk factor for depression. This lifestyle advice is not new, or a quick-fix, but some things will always be consistent when it comes to completely optimising your health, both physical and mental.

This example makes Health Psychology such a vital component in stirring up the limits of the human body plus the human mind to reiterate yet again that the connection between both the entities is only a parabola to prove that anything is possible if one wants to move forward after resisting the dreaded patterns and behaviours which are hazardous. 

Often, it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self. – Karen Salmansohn