We are having a mental health revolution in the UK. We are becoming more aware of the effects of mental illness and the power of positive mental wellbeing.
One in two people experiences a mental illness by the time they reach age 40. This shows how common mental health issues are, and how we still need to take measures towards our mental health and wellbeing.
Similar to our physical health, there are ways to improve and maintain our mental fitness. The concept has only emerged in the past few decades. Just like we can improve our physical health by moving our bodies, we can improve our mental health by strengthening our minds.
In this article, we’ll look at what mental fitness is and how you can encourage it.
What is mental fitness?
It is fitness for your mental health, with exercises that keep your brain and emotional health in tip-top shape. Similar to physical fitness, this is done through mental exercises.
You may have heard that the brain deteriorates with age. But there is proof from neuroscience that at any age, through training, we can change our brains to become even more mentally strong, healthy, and fit.
Mental fitness is made up of four core components:
- Emotional: self-acceptance, self-esteem and resilience. This helps you manage strong emotions.
- Social: social companionship and support networks.
- Financial: feeling in control of your finances helps reduce stress in your life.
- Physical: reduce the risk of chronic illnesses developing and improve the health of your brain.
These core values affect a person’s wellbeing. Looking after these areas of their life will greatly improve their work performance, attendance and health.
Let’s see how brain fitness exercises can help you.
How does mental fitness benefit you?
These exercises help strengthen neural pathways in the brain. Having this strength gives you a more grounded thought process. Allowing you to manage your emotions and be more objective.
It benefits you emotionally as well, by helping you experience more positive emotions on a more regular basis and supporting you to break negative habits.
The more that we feed negative thoughts and emotions, the more likely they will occur. Science has proven, thoughts that evoke certain emotions cluster together, meaning every time we repeat a thought, it strengthens.
While this means it’s easy to get caught in negative cycles. We can rewire our brains in the opposite way, and empower positive thoughts and emotions.
This is where mental fitness comes in.
You’ll feel more confident, resilient, and energised by improving your mental fitness. It’s natural to feel sadness and worry, but by strengthening your mental fitness, it will become more difficult for these feelings to spiral into depression and anxiety.
How can you improve your mental fitness?
There are several kinds of exercises you can do to improve your mental fitness. We split them into three different skills to work on:
- Recognising the patterns that create difficult emotions and negative moods.
- Regulating overwhelming emotions and thoughts as and when they arise.
- Resolving the patterns that detract from your well-being by building new ones.
Part of improving your mental fitness is discovering strategies that are most effective for you. Similar to how some people prefer to play outdoor team sports instead of going to the gym, you’ll discover methods that work better for you.
Here are some common ways to improve your mental fitness.
Reading is a great activity because it can stoke the imagination and ignite so many different parts of the brain. There are endless genres and types of reading material available. It’s unlikely that you’ll run out of interesting things to read.
Beyond the mechanics, reading helps you visualise the subject matter on the pages before you, and imagine what voices sound like in the written dialogue. This can also be a great relaxation technique.
Meditation is a way into a personal, mental muscle-building playground. It strengthens our ability to watch all the troubling things that our minds do. It helps with interrupting and shifting the mental habits that cause us trouble.
Meditation also helps us to focus and tune out distractions, which allows us to be able to focus on the tasks we might have.
Try breathing exercises
While meditation may be a bit more tricky to do at work, breathing exercises have many of the same benefits and are easier to practice.
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.
Here’s a breathing exercise you can do anywhere:
- Take a long, slow, deep inhale through the nose. Let the breath expand into your chest, rib cage, and belly.
- Pause for a moment.
- Now exhale through the nose in a way that matches the speed and length of your inhale. Feel the belly drawing in and the chest and ribcage falling slightly.
- Pause and repeat this cycle at least three times.
Play games for your brain
There are a number of different games and puzzles to help with keeping your brain sharp. Games that test reasoning and other portions of your brain are fun ways to keep your mind sharp. Consider these games:
- Crossword puzzles
- Board games
As well as these traditional games, there is now a vast market for apps that will give you daily mental exercises to undertake. They design these to improve memory, reasoning and general mental fitness.
Keeping your brain active can include trying new things. If we continue in the same routine, our brain will be under-stimulated.
Doing new things, or doing the same things you usually do in different ways, will retrain your brain and keep it stimulated.
It may even produce new brain cells. In essence, breaking out of your routine can help keep your brain healthy.
Some easy ways you can introduce variety into your life are:
- Take a new route to work.
- Try new food.
- Travel to new places on your weekends or time off.
- Use new tools or methods to accomplish your routine tasks at work.
The relationship between physical fitness and mental health
It’s not surprising that there is a lot of overlap between mental health and fitness. Physical exercise helps boost the flow of oxygen to your brain and increases the amount of endorphins.
This shows the relationship between health and fitness. It’s not surprising that people who are in good shape and take part in regular physical activities also enjoy the intellectual benefits of exercise.
By combining physical activity and mental health exercises allows for better overall wellbeing in physical and mental fitness.
So with these clear mental benefits of exercise, it is important to include body and mind fitness routines in your mental fitness plan.