Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
But sometimes, our mental health takes a backseat to our physical fitness — yet they’re absolutely connected.
For example, how fast would you drive your car if you didn’t have brakes? Lacking understanding of why your brain reacts to certain things (and how you can change that) can make you feel like you are speeding down the highway without control. But every time you learn skills to assist your brain’s health, you become more safe! And when our brain feels safe, it allows more clarity of mind, physical abilities, and emotional wellbeing.
Strength of Body and Mind
Physical fitness gets plenty of attention, and for good reason. Without our health, everything in life is a challenge. But more than just building strong muscles, physical health builds our mental health — and vice versa. So it’s not surprising that during May, we have both Mental Health Month and National Physical Fitness & Sports Month.
This makes sense — we are brain derived! Everything we remember, see, feel, and move starts with the brain! Because of this, mental fitness is more important than physical, and should not be neglected. The great news is that there are ways of combining the mental and physical for optimal benefits in less time!
Here are four ways to increase your mental health and fitness.
Exercise stimulates our sensory and motor courtesies (within the frontal and parietal lobes) and maintains your brains balance system. Nothing speeds up brain atrophy more than being immobilized in the same environment. Look up “Sea Squirt” if you have any doubts! The monotony undermines our dopamine and attentional systems crucial to maintaining brain plasticity.
Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain. The brain consumes at least 30% of our oxygen supply! It also increases the amount of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals, in our brain.
While exercise is good for the brain and the body, so is meditation. Meditation, in conjunction with other methods, is an alternative way to treat depression. Calming the mind allows you to problem-solve in a more relaxed way.
Visualization can also boost your emotional well-being and calm you down mentally. Athletes often visualize winning, going through their routine, throwing the perfect pitch. All of us can visualize success or accomplishment of a task or goal. This practice can reduce tension in both your body and your mind by challenging neurons in the less-dominant area of your brain.
The less-dominant side of your brain is the area that controls feelings of self-confidence and optimism. When you think about something other than your daily worries or triumph over those doubts, you increase activity in the neural structures of that area of your brain — creating effective and positive change!
Be Positive to Yourself
Have you ever had 100 people say something positive about you, and then 1 person says something negative? Do you then dwell on (and believe) the 1 negative comment?! Why is that?
The brain is about safety and avoiding danger, so it “values” threat more than positive messages because its job is to keep you alive. But think about it — is someone saying they don’t like your haircut actually threatening your survival? No!
So, you do not have to give it the weight your 1st brain (wired for survival) initially does. You can inhibit those unnecessary thoughts (through the 2nd brain) since the information does not actually put you in danger. So now that you know what is happening, surround yourself with positivity, and shake of the unneeded negativity! Affirmation, or talking to yourself in a positive way, involves strengthening neural pathways to bring your self-confidence, well-being, and satisfaction to a higher level.
Reward your successes!!! It is crucial to brain change! It does not have to flagrant or showy, but you must acknowledge them. Each reward releases dopamine (reinforce reward) and acetylcholine (helps brain tunes in and sharpen memories). This ultimately makes you want to and capable of doing more of that… so reward positive changes and habits!!
A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is also very important to mental health! The more sleep you get, the greater the plastic change in the brain map. REM sleep is necessary to enhance our ability to retain emotional matters, helps hippocampus turn short-term memories into long-term memories, and neurons to grow normally. Check out our blog on sleep for more on this!
Support Your Mental Health
With so many ways to increase your mental health and well-being, pick one to start with that feels the easiest and most relaxing. Introduce it gently and help it become part of your everyday life.
From there, add another and continue to celebrate your progress at building a strong, safe, healthy mind — and your body will follow along.