In my 30s I found exercise as a great way to burn stress. I was a busy working mom with two small kids and exercise was my time for myself. I fell in love with it. I still love to exercise but now I exercise less than I used to and make time for my mental fitness too. I love to start my day with a hot cup of black coffee, my journal and silence. It’s a sacred time for me to think and direct my life intentionally. I love it!
Mental fitness is a concept used to help us enhance our thought patterns and overall mental and cognitive well-being. Just as the body can be strengthened through physical exercise, our minds too can be made more resilient through conscious training and healthy lifestyle practices. By developing an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we can become more confident and capable in the world.
Everyone has experienced feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and helpless amidst the pressures of daily life, and many people have found this especially true over the last few years. It is when we let these types of thoughts dominate that we run into problems. Feeding into negative beliefs will only make them occur more frequently, as the brain forms neural pathways that become reinforced. The practice of mental fitness is about rewiring the neural pathways that don’t serve us, so that we experience positive thoughts more often than negative ones, and supporting our mental and cognitive health daily.
Instead of responding to challenges emotionally, which often leads to frustration and defeat, mental fitness allows you to step back and respond in a way that is calm, rational, and positive. It also helps to improve our cognition, brain health and memory for years to come.
Ways You Can Optimize Your Mental Fitness
Achieving peace of mind and optimal brain health may sound easier said than done, but there are many small changes and practices that you can add to your routine to keep your brain in top shape.
1 – Sleep
Getting enough sleep not only prevents illness, but it also significantly improves your mental health and cognitive functioning. Make sure that you are getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night so that your brain functions optimally. This is an often overlooked health hack. It seems too easy to be important, but it is! Promise!
2 – Exercise
Physical fitness is closely connected to mental fitness; you cannot achieve a healthy mind if your body is not performing properly. This is also true the other way around, as poor physical health may also impact mental health. The benefits of leading an active life are well documented. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and releases endorphins – our happy hormones. These so-called “happy chemicals” will help relieve stress and improve your mental state. There is such a thing as too much exercise, but some exercise, regularly, every week is a must!
3 – Mindfulness
The ability to recognize when a thought is negative or unhelpful is crucial to developing mental fitness. We all have this “roommate” inside our brains. Sometimes this roommate is downright mean. Take the time to step back from the negative thoughts your “roommate” offers you and question their validity. You can then reframe them to more positive ones that serve you and your goals. When I notice negative thoughts, I like to pause and ask myself, “Is this really true?” Then I take it a step further and look for evidence that the opposite may be true. For example, if I make a mistake, my brain may offer me the thought like, “You are always messing things up!” I notice it and ask if that is really true. Of course it’s not. I then look for times when I don’t mess things up and I feel so much better.
4 – Doing new things
Being adaptable and open to change is a major component of mental fitness. Find new ways to challenge yourself and your mental fitness will grow with the world around you. This could be as simple as taking up a new hobby or trying a new food. Studies on Alzheimer’s have found that engaging your brain in different ways helps support brain cells and strengthen neural connections. Variety will increase your brain’s vitality.
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