Keeping your brain in shape
Physical fitness gets plenty of attention, and for good reason. A healthy body can prevent conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and help you maintain independence as you age.
Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, and shouldn’t be neglected. Including mental dexterity exercises into your daily routine can help you reap the benefits of a sharper mind and a healthier body for years to come.
Mental fitness means keeping your brain and emotional health in tip-top shape. It doesn’t mean training for “brain Olympics” or acing an IQ test. It refers to a series of exercises that help you:
- slow down
- boost a flagging memory
It’s no surprise that the more you help your body, the more you help your mind. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain. It also increases the amount of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals, in your brain. For this reason, it’s not surprising that people who are in good physical shape also tend to enjoy a higher level of mental agility.
Engaging in a vigorous physical workout can help you battle depression and gain a more positive outlook on life. It’s also a great way to beat stress, which can harm you mentally and physically.
Mental exercise is just as beneficial. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, certain memory training exercises can increase “fluid intelligence,” the ability to reason and solve new problems.
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.
Benefits of mental fitness
When you go to bed after a long day, your body begins to relax. But the mind doesn’t always follow.
Visualization can help. You can often achieve a sense of peacefulness through imagery, the process of picturing a tranquil scene or location. 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, you increase activity in the neural structures of that area of your brain.
Ultimately, visualization can boost your emotional well-being and calm you down mentally.
Become mentally fit
Keeping your mind mentally fit isn’t as difficult as getting ready for a marathon, but it’s a good analogy. You can add mental exercises to the many activities you already perform, such as:
- finding humor in life
You might try the following approaches to increase your mental fitness.
You may think that multitasking enables you to get more things done at once, but it actually creates more problems than it solves. Focusing on one task at a time will improve your concentration and help you to be more productive.
Be positive with yourself
Positive affirmation is one avenue to increased mental proficiency.
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.
To start, make a list of your good qualities. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect. Set goals for what you want to improve and start small to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Try something different
New experiences can also set you on the path to mental fitness. You can fit new approaches into your daily life in a variety of ways:
- Try new foods.
- Try new ways to accomplish routine tasks.
- Travel to new places.
- Take a new way to work or the grocery store.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that keeping your brain active increases its vitality. Doing new things in new ways appears to help retain brain cells and connections. It may even produce new brain cells. In essence, breaking out of your routine can help keep your brain stay healthy.
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
Games are a great way to build up your brain muscle. Even fast-paced action video games may boost your ability to learn new tasks, according to a study in the journal Current Biology. The study found tentative evidence that video games may increase your attention span, reaction time, and task-switching ability. In addition to video games, try any game that employs the use of:
Reading is great for your brain. Even as you’re reading this sentence, your brain is processing each word, recalling the meaning instantly.
Beyond the mechanics, reading helps you visualize 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.
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. It’s unlikely that you’ll run out of interesting things to read.
Take the time
Mental fitness doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. Spending a few minutes on it every day can help you feel better and think more clearly. Remember that relaxation and visualization are just as important in a mental workout as the more energetic activities, such as memory exercises or game-playing. Try adding one or two activities at a time to your mental workout, such as:
- memory exercises
Mental fitness is important to maintaining your brain and your body healthy, especially as you age. There are many types of mental dexterity exercises, and you don’t need to go to the gym to do them. They include active ones, such as learning a new song or playing a game, as well as restful ones, such as relaxation and visualization exercises. Schedule a mental fitness break into your calendar right next to your workout schedule. Your mind and your health are worth it.
When we aren’t feeling well, it is easy for us to go to the doctor and get checked. Whether it is the common cold or a stomachache, we take some medicine and the next day we are back to our daily routine. But when one has no desire to get out of bed in the morning and has a constant sense of hopelessness, he or she might be heading down a path of no return.
Mental health is defined as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” It can be affected by pressure, stress, trauma and sleep.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 2014 reports, one in five Americans experience a mental health issue and one in 10 young adults experience a period of major depression, which often leads to anxiety disorders and eating disorders.
It is essential that we pay more attention to mental and emotional health than physical heath. Increased mental health leads to a stronger connection between the mind and body.
Poor mental health canaffect our self-esteem, confidence and our physical well-being. Familydoctor.org states, “Poor emotional health can weaken your body’s immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during an emotionally difficult time.”
In addition, according to the Mental Health Foundation, depression has been linked to 67 percent increased risk of death from heart disease and 50 percent increased risk of death from cancer, a result of those with mental health conditions being less likely to receive the physical healthcare they are entitled to.
Survival begins in a person’s mind.
Thus, mental health is much more important than physical health. According to Study.com, physical health consists of many components, including physical activity, nutrition and diet, alcohol and drugs, medical self-care and rest and sleep - all components controlled by mental health.
Our minds and bodies already have a strong connection and they need to work together to properly function, but if we aren’t feeling our best mentally then this is impossible.
It is vital to our survival that we take care of our mental well- being. Talking to someone or joining a sport or activity that can get the pressure and stress out can be beneficial.
Jocelyn Oceguera is a vegetarian invested in overall health.