Mental fitness is key to health and wellness.
It seems we’re slowly starting to understand the importance of mental fitness. Defined as a state of wellbeing where we have positive thoughts about who we are and how we think, feel and act, mental fitness is part of a holistic understanding of health. It includes self-esteem, resilience, and the ability to manage strong emotions and affects the mind’s ability to function efficiently and effectively. Without a strong and healthy brain and mind, the most physically fit person won’t be as healthy as she could be.
Mental wellness also helps us cope with difficult times, manage stress, and confidence to try new things. It can improve cognitive function, reduce stress, and improve our mood.
And guess what? Exercise is an essential part of mental wellness. “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal,” according to a study published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“Exercise may be one of the most underused treatments for improving mental health,” states an article on positivepsychology.com. “Research has shown that patients suffering from depressive or anxiety sensitive disorders benefit significantly from increased exercise interventions.”
“Chronic stress alters the brain,” the author continues. “Exercise reduces sensitivity to that stress, allowing for the brain to function properly.”
So how can I exercise for mental fitness?
FitTrack’s got you covered.
Our new MyHealth+ premium app, used in conjunction with one of our smart scales, offers the Body & Mind Fit program (among others). In it, our strength and mobility coach, Irina Andreea (and the lead coach of the Body & Mind Fit program), will focus on balance, guiding you through a fitness regimen designed to benefit your body and your mind. “By using yoga, bodyweight, boxing, and HIIT, we’ll offer a more holistic approach to your health,” says Andreea. (Meet all of our amazing FitTrack trainers here.)
Just as you work out to build muscle and improve physical fitness, conquer goals, and live a healthy and happy life, so too can you exercise your brain. The key is making lifestyle changes that will impact your whole health. And the extra good news? We can train our brains no matter our age.
Some of the best exercises for mental fitness include walking or running, martial arts and boxing, yoga, and HIIT training.
But any exercise, as long as you can be consistent and active every day, will contribute to your mental health. Just as you don’t get a six-pack by doing one day of sit-ups, mental fitness requires regular, consistent practice. In addition, exercise releases endorphins which helps our mood, and it increases blood flow to the brain, allowing it to work efficiently. Given this dual-purpose, physical fitness helps our mind AND our brain.
Working Our Brain
There are many things we can do to support cognitive and emotional wellness. Here’s a brief list:
- Deep breathing - According to the meditation app, Calm, “Slowing down and deepening the breath has been shown to help calm the mind. It can also reduce blood pressure, improve memory, and settle emotions.”
- Connecting with friends
- Listening to music
- Keeping a gratitude journal - According to Harvard Health, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
- Being in nature
- Turning off your phone
- Eating healthy foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables, and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids.
- Using games, puzzles, and apps that focus on brain exercises.
- Getting enough sleep
- Being kind to yourself
- Working with a therapist if you struggle with intense emotions or acute depression or anxiety
A word about mindfulness
Meditation and the practice of mindfulness train the brain’s main muscle; namely, attention. Focusing our attention on the present moment helps decrease worry and anxiety by keeping us rooted in the here and now, rather than worrying about the future or fretting about the past. It is about attending to thoughts, feelings, and senses but not reacting to them. Practicing mindfulness every day strengthens the brain, creating new neural pathways and helping us make better choices to live more healthily.
“[Y]ou have the awareness, mental strength, and agility to identify options and choose another route,” states an article on BetterUp.com.
Studies show that mindfulness can increase activity in the left side of the brain, which is associated with positive feelings and behavior.
According to mindful.org, “The mind is a gym, and meditation is a basic workout.”
You may think that mindful exercise begins and ends with yoga. Not true. Any movement can be mindful when you pay attention to what you’re doing, focus on the present, and notice exactly what your body is doing and how it’s feeling. It’s about slowing down, breathing intentionally, and noticing the breath. Doing so strengthens the mind-body connection, which can lower stress levels and help us be aware when something is off.
There are numerous ways we can move our bodies mindfully, including deep breathing to bring oxygen to the brain and relax; stretching to nurture the body and help us let go of the day; and intense workouts to help us focus on our body and how it feels.
When you are working out (no matter what the activity), ditch the playlist and tune into your brain and your bodily sensations; set an intention and create a goal or purpose for your workout; and use your breath as a way to help push you through any discomfort or thoughts about giving up. Notice your trembling quads and keep going.
Research shows that even moving our body differently in daily life can change how our mind works. Standing tall with your shoulders back, for example, can help us feel more confident if we have a big presentation at work or an important meeting.
Walking mindfully is an excellent alternative for people who find it hard to sit still for meditation. There are tons of resources online for ideas for walking meditation. However, we like the basics:
- Walk slowly and deliberately.
- Be aware of the present moment. Focus on the breath, and when your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to what you’re doing right now.
- Tune into your senses - the breeze on your face, the scent in the air, the crunching snow under your boots.
- In the summer, it’s helpful to walk barefoot in the grass, placing each foot slowly on the ground, noticing exactly how the grass feels on each part of your foot.
No matter what kind of movement you prefer, remember that exercising your mind is just as important as training your physical body. As a result, the two influence and benefit each other, helping you create a lifestyle that makes wellness a priority.