Mental fitness is a term which is becoming increasingly used, but what does it actually mean and should we be concerned about it?
We often hear the term 'use it or lose it' in relation to physical fitness but this maxim applies equally to the brain. If mental strength is the ability to overcome challenges and excel, then mental fitness can be defined as our ability to do this over time, and to keep our faculties intact.
The problem that we find when we lack mental fitness is that we can become overwhelmed, stressed or unhappy. This then impacts on our ability to function optimally.
The good news is that just like physical fitness, there are things we can do to improve and develop our mental fitness, thus ensuring we can handle all that life throws at us.
Including mental workouts into your daily routine as well as managing diet and stress can play a huge part in this process. Below we look at some simple actionable steps that we can all take to ensure that our brains are running on full power.
Meditating for just minutes each day is a great way to relieve stress, but the benefits can be much farther reaching. Studies show that mindful meditation can ease mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and even post traumatic stress disorder.
Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical school even showed an increase in subjects grey matter after an eight week mindfulness programme. Add some meditation into your routine to manage stress effectively and improve your brain power. Added benefits can include lower blood pressure and boosted immune system.
Reading regularly not only makes you more knowledgeable, it can actually boost your brains power. Just as the body needs a workout, so does the mind. Reading regularly improves memory function and keeps the mind sharp.
Engaging in mental activity such as reading or completing puzzles also reduces the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. Reading at bedtime is especially helpful in relieving stress and helping us get a great nights sleep, both of which are vital for mental well-being.
Exercising is great for the body and mind. It improves the way we look and feel by releasing feel good chemicals (endorphins) into the bloodstream. By including exercise into our daily routine we can even boost mental function and productivity. Research shows that workers who take time to exercise feel better and more productive than their less active colleagues.
Part of improving mental fitness is the ability to overcome challenges in the first place. By putting ourselves 'out their', and working outside of our comfort zones, we can train the brain to push through difficulty and still get things done.
Proactively seek out challenges that allow you to grow mentally. Add distance to your weekly run and up the tempo. Learn a new language or instrument. A martial art such as Brazilian Jiu jitsu will constantly put you into situations where you have to step out of your comfort zone, and use mind over matter.
The mere discipline of doing something challenging week in week out will build mental toughness. The ego takes a bashing whenever you do anything new but the challenge of overcoming obstacles builds character. Whatever you choose to do make sure that it really pushes you to grow. Mental strength and fitness comes from going above and beyond.
A healthy balanced diet is very important for brain health. Mediterranean diets which are rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil have been linked with a reduction in cognitive impairment. Fish, which is rich in omega 3 is often seen as brain food so add some to your diet.
By limiting sugary and processed food, and making sure we eat a balanced diet we can avoid the mental and physical highs and lows that are associated with poor eating choices.