We hear about mental fitness all the time but it’s so broad and encompasses so many areas that we get so scared to even discuss it. Knowledge is power so it’s high time we arm ourselves with enough information to tackle mental fitness head-on!
Why is mental fitness important?
Physical fitness is getting a lot of traction nowadays, and for good reason. A physically active body can prevent many physiological conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, allowing you to age with grace and independence.
Mental fitness, however, is often overlooked. Yet it is just as important as physical fitness.
Mental fitness practically means keeping your brain and emotional health in optimal function. Mental fitness exercises are specialized to help you decompress, slow down, and boost memory capacity.
There is a mind-body connection that you need to maintain in healthy balance. Physical movement increases oxygen flow to your brain, raising the amount of endorphins, or otherwise known “feel good” chemicals, in your brain. That is why it’s relatively common for physically active people to also display higher mental agility.
Possessing mental fitness leaves more room for creativity to flow and create avenues for us to use our mental abilities to the fullest. Mental fitness also helps fight off depression and stress.
How do you improve mental fitness?
Pay more attention to your body’s powerhouse – your brain. We’ve recently published an article on 6 keys to unlock your optimum brain power. A Lust for Life also shares a handful of tips to increase mental fitness levels:
1. Be kind to yourself
Make time to engage in activities you enjoy and that get you so immersed that you don’t think of anything else.
2. Focus on one thing at a time
“Multi-tasking” is a badge of honor we wear on our sleeves, but juggling too many things all at once is not healthy. Practice being fully present – whether you’re taking a walk, eating lunch, or spending time with friends.
3. Spend time in nature
Nature has a way of grounding us in times of extreme stress. Take in the sights, feel the wind, and enjoy the sand between your toes. Connect to the present and “smell the roses.”
4. Serve others
Helping others allow us redirect our focus from ourselves to the great big world around us.
5. Know when to ask for help
You might think mental fitness is being able to do everything 100% perfect and right on schedule. However, this will only put unnecessary pressure on your mental health. Knowing when to ask for help is essential to maintaining a healthy headspace.
6. Learn something new
A great way to keep your brain fit is to always be learning. Find out what things excite you or pique your curiosity and learn them.
7. Positive thought affirmation
Be mindful of your thought language as you go through the day. If you notice your brain is going towards a negative tone, steer it towards optimism and positivity by practicing mantras and verbal positive affirmations.
How does lifestyle influence mental fitness?
Lifestyle change receives less credit than it is due for the role it plays in maintaining optimum overall well-being, especially for your mental health.
People who are suffering from mental issues such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia, are often prescribed medications to help manage their symptoms, but receive no wellness or lifestyle change advice from their doctors.
This is unfortunate, as your daily habits have significant impact on your mental fitness.
Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to improve your mental well-being:
1. Eat Better
We will go into detail on what specific foods can boost your mental fitness later on in this article, but we cannot stress enough how food plays a huge role in maintaining both physical and mental well-being.
Avoid fatty foods that may increase risk for psychiatric symptoms, as a study done on mice showed impaired memory, increased anxiety, repetitive behaviour and brain inflammation as a result of a fatty diet.
Sugar, or also known as “The White Death,” no matter how tasty, does more harm to your body than good and should only be consumed in minimal amounts. Sugar has been linked to higher rates of depression and can aggravate symptoms of mental illness.
2. Prioritize Exercise
At the expense of sounding like a broken record, we’ll say it again – exercise keeps you fit both physically and mentally. A Southern Methodist University study labelled exercise “the magic drug” to prescribe to people diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders. Research also suggests that daily low-level activity can help fight off depression and decrease your risk for developing the illness later in life.
3. Practice Stress Reduction Techniques
Stress feeds mental illness, and mental illness feeds stress. Minimizing stress can end this vicious cycle and help you work towards mental fitness.
We’ve recently debunked common methods people resort to to relieve stress such as smoking, drinking, and stress-eating. Steer clear from those and do these things instead:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Visualization techniques
- PMR or progressive muscle relaxation techniques
What food choices boost mental fitness?
Here is the list from our article on 9 foods you should eat to boost mental fitness:
One of the many benefits of eating blueberries is that this superfood boosts concentration and memory for up to 5 hours because of its abundance in antioxidants that stimulate blood flow and oxygen to your brain.
2. Green Tea
Green Tea contains two focus-boosting chemicals: first, caffeine, and second, l’theanine. Caffeine, as you already know, helps keep us alert and focused. L’Theanine is a chemical that increases tranquility and releases caffeine more slowly instead of all at once, which may lead to crash-and-burn. These two combined will boost your ability to focus attention.
Avocados are superfoods that enhance your circulation, and taste super good. Eating healthy portions of avocado regularly is a delicious way to fire up your brain cells.
4. Leafy green vegetables
Some of us may have never outgrown our distaste for leafy green vegetables, but whether we like it or not, they do our bodies good. They are full of antioxidants and carotenoids, which increase brain function and help protect your brain. Leafy greens are also great sources of B-vitamins proven to boost memory, focus, and overall brain health. Plus, they also contain folic acid that improves mental clarity. A basic rule of thumb: The greener the leaf, the better.
5. Fatty Fish
Fatty and oily fish contains omega-3 which supports memory, mental performance and behavioral function. Studies also prove that consuming fatty fish help improve mood and concentration. Salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines are great fatty fish types you can add to your grocery list.
This is a no-brainer. Drink enough water if you want to improve your focus. Water fuels the brain the energy it needs for every single brain function. Hydrating well has been proven to stimulate faster thinking, more focus, and greater clarity and creativity.
7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains a slight amount of caffeine that helps elevate mental alertness. However, we are in no way saying you should be eating huge bricks of dark chocolate a day, (we know it’s incredibly addicting). But dark chocolate in small doses can significantly increase your ability to focus.
8. Flax seeds
Flax seeds are great sources of magnesium, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber, all contributing to better mental clarity, focus, and even weight loss. Sprinkle flax seeds on cereal, oatmeal, salad, or yogurt to elevate your snacking benefits.
Nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E, known for slowing down cognitive decline as you grow older. You just need an ounce of nuts a day to enjoy this benefit. Nuts are also great sources of amino acids that will help you maintain focus.
You can also take home these 5 recipes for enhanced brain power.
What is the relationship between mental fitness and overall health?
We get back to the mind-body connection.
Researchers from Bangor University in Wales discovered that performing a mentally draining task before an exercise test caused participants to get exhausted quicker than when they did the exercise in a mentally rested state.
There have been recent studies that found child abuse can even cause brain alterations in the expression of a particular brain gene.
Another group of scientists also discovered that physically fit elderly adults tend to have bigger hippocampi and better spatial memory than those who are less fit. Hippocampus size is usually attributed to contribute 40% of our spatial intelligence.
Uncontrolled anger can cause or aggravate heart problems. People with anger management issues tend to be at higher risk for developing heart dysrhythmias in the future than those without such anger problems.
Not getting enough sleep has dangerous physical effects of its own.
The bottom line here is that pursuing mental fitness is essentially another way of being physically fit. Healthy mind and body benefit from one another and allow you to deal with negative emotions and behaviors without compromising physiological functions.