When it comes to fitness, most people think of physical bodily improvement. Less familiar is the concept of mental fitness. Yet, improving the health of our mental faculties is a vital aspect of overall well-being. Mental fitness is the key to maintaining a sharp mind, feeling in control, and developing a winning attitude. And you don’t have to join a gym to get mentally fit—you can do it in your home.
In this article, we discover what it looks like to exercise your mind and provide some mental fitness exercises you can start doing today.
- What is Mental Fitness?
- The Four Aspects of Mental Fitness
- Mind-Body Connection
- How to Get Mentally Fit
- Four Ways to Improve Your Mental Fitness
What is Mental Fitness?
The concept of mental fitness is relatively new, having emerged as a balance to people’s focus on physical fitness. It is defined as a state of well-being encompassing optimism, positivity, and goal orientation.
Mental fitness is not about improving your intellectual knowledge but increasing your emotional health, developing positive self-perception, developing tools to counter stress, and building resilience.
The concept of mental fitness helps us appreciate that our mental state is not fixed. Just as we can exercise our biceps to make them bigger and stronger, so too can we exercise our minds to become more resilient and increase our self-esteem.
Similarly, just as a lack of physical exercise can lead to weight gain, muscle atrophy, and poor heart health, neglecting our mental health can make us more depressed, less confident, and less motivated to achieve our goals.
Mental health in athletes has been in the news lately. But it is important that all of us exercise our mental fitness.
The Four Aspects of Mental Fitness
There are four components that constitute mental fitness:
Emotional fitness is designed to build up a person’s self-esteem, self-confidence, resilience, and ability to deal with stressful situations.
Social fitness encompasses the development of friendships and the building of a support network to help us as we negotiate our way through life. It acknowledges that we all need companionship, love, and acceptance and seeks to nourish the relationships that provide those gifts.
Financial fitness is not about being rich. Instead, it involves controlling your financial life, setting and consistently working toward financial goals, and successfully dealing with the unpredictable financial pressures that arise in your life.
Physical fitness is actually a component of mental fitness. When physically fit, we are far less likely to suffer physical ailments. The more physically fit we are, the better we will feel about ourselves.
The fact that physical fitness is one of the components of mental fitness shows that the two are inextricably linked. The mental benefits of physical exercise are well known. When you engage in a regular program of physical exercise, you’ll immediately feel better as a result of the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. At the same time, exercise suppresses the release of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone.
Physical exercise is all about setting, working toward, and achieving goals. This is a very positive mental process. It gives us purpose and, as we progress toward our goals, a sense of self-accomplishment. The fulfillment of our goals, as evidenced by our stronger, fitter, leaner, and more muscular body, builds our self-perception.
It is clear, then, that getting into a regular program of physical fitness is an essential part of mental fitness.
How to Get Mentally Fit
So how do you go about getting mentally fit?
If you want to lose weight, there’s a pretty clear path to follow: Eat less and do a combination of cardio and resistance exercise three to four times weekly. But what if you want to build your resilience or increase your self-esteem?
People are also less likely to identify when their mental health is declining and when to seek help.
There are four steps involved in mental fitness:
Assess your current level of mental health
Just as you have a fitness assessment when you join a gym, you should begin your mental fitness journey with an assessment. If you want to know where your stress, energy, anxiety, depression, and resilience levels are, online tests are easily accessible.
Become aware of your mental behavioral patterns
Building our self-awareness is key to mental health. It is only when we can identify the mental and behavioral patterns that cause negative thoughts, feelings, and actions that we can change them. One way to do this is to track your moods and identify any triggers that cause them.
Develop behavioral strategies to improve your mood
Having identified the mentally destructive behavior patterns, you can now develop behavioral strategies to overcome them. A behavioral strategy should encompass techniques that relieve stress, improve mood, or make you feel accomplished.
Reading, taking a walk, taking a bath or a shower, making a modest goal, participating in a sport or pastime, or spending time with someone are common activities that lessen stress.
Another key strategy is buying out the time to relax and mentally recharge.
Practice thought strategies that encourage positive, balanced thinking
We cannot control what thoughts come into our minds. But we can control what we do with that thought. Rather than simply accepting a negative thought, we can stop and assess the validity of such a statement. When we do, we can present facts proving the statement is invalid. We are then able to kick out the negative thoughts.
Four Ways to Improve Your Mental Fitness
- Practice guided imagery where you induce a calm, positive mental state with visual images.
- Make a gratitude list where you note down a number of things in your life that you’re grateful for. Regularly refer to your list to help feed your positive feelings about your life.
- Build such mindful activities as reading a hardcopy book, listening to music and podcasts, hiking, or playing board games.
- Practice deep breathing exercises to help deal with stress and induce a feeling of calm.
Check out the top fitness podcasts to stimulate your mind and body.
Mental fitness is a vital part of overall wellness. By practicing mental fitness techniques, you can nourish your mind, build positive self-perception, and deal successfully with life’s challenges. So, when it comes to planning your goals for the coming year, be sure to include mental and physical fitness as part of your daily practice.