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Mental Fitness: it's about exercising your brain!

Author: Yap Xin Yi, Intern @ ARKCC

Date: 29 Dec 2021



Mental Fitness

When we talk about illness, physical illness always comes to our mind first, so does fitness, physical fitness always comes first. Similarly to physical fitness, mental fitness is important for people’s mental health. Both are equally important for people. Fitness is normally referred to as a condition of health and well-being that is often attained by regular physical exercises, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition. Regarding mental fitness, it refers to a person’s cognitive functioning psychosocial health and well-being. One is said to be mentally fit when he or she has a positive sense of how he/she feels, thinks and behaves in daily life as well as in public life and the global community (Miller, 2020). Both physical fitness and mental fitness are intertwined as neglecting mental health can result in less resilience to life’s ups and downs which in turn are more likely to make poor lifestyle choices (LifeWorks, 2019).


How mental fitness help?

Mental fitness helps to strengthen the neurological pathway that leads to the most objective and realistic thinking by breaking the pattern so that more positive emotions will be experienced regularly instead of negative emotions (Miki, 2019). This is because negative thoughts and behaviour will more likely occur if one continuously feeds them. According to science, humans have a huge capacity to constantly rewire the brain throughout their lifetime due to the brain’s neuroplasticity. For example, when one allows negative thoughts to repeat, it will be strengthened because the neurons that elicit them are grouped together through brain circuits. Mental fitness aims to improve the brain networks that promote mental well-being. Negative emotions like sadness and worry are normally to be having them but after strengthening the mental fitness, the negative emotions will less likely to develop to mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, as stated earlier, mental fitness is defined as having and maintaining a state of well-being and cultivating awareness on how one thinks, feels and behaves. Mental fitness helps to increase one’s ability to respond to life by providing more space to decide how to react to a circumstance, whether it's cognition, an external stimulus, or a feeling. As a result, one is less likely to suffer or create emotional or interpersonal harm (Sinclair, 2021). For instance, in a conflict that occurs between a couple that resulted in frustration on both sides, one will be making a better choice to pause and respond in a better way to resolve the conflict if one is mentally fit. Mental fitness has a cumulative effect on the emotional health of daily interaction with others. A result of lesser stress and negative emotions will be experienced if one is mentally fit.


How does mental fitness work?

Humans’ thoughts were carried by the brain through neural pathways. As stated earlier, if one lets the same thoughts repeat, it will strengthen and reinforce the thoughts. This would lead to automatic thinking that makes one less aware of it. Even some automatic thinking can be good, awareness is still needed on the routine and the pathways that are inadvertently reinforcing. Automatic thinking causes people to react in an unhelpful way as it is based on past triggers or emotions. Also, the limbic system is responsible for automatic thinking. It has been constantly scanning the surroundings for threats and throughout evolution. It protects humans but in today’s environment, it also can lead to hurtful thoughts and behaviours too. Thus, the essence of mental fitness is to develop and re-program the neural pathways which can serve better and benefit humans’ lives by strengthening certain muscles or fine-tuning a movement (Sinclair, 2021). Mental fitness recognizes the patterns that lead to bad emotions and moods, using a combination of approaches to manage overwhelming emotions and thoughts as they come and creating new patterns to replace the ones that are detracting from happiness (Miki, 2019).



Benefits

Mental exercise is just as beneficial as physical exercise. According to research, certain memory training exercises are able to increase fluid intelligence which is the ability to reason and problem-solving (Roth, 2017). Below are some benefits that can be gained from better mental fitness (Sinclair, 2021).

  • Being present: Able to better retain information, listen and be aware of it without being sabotaged by distractions. This can lead to more enjoyment of life and better relationships.

  • Ability to respond: Having more control over automatic thoughts so that one is able to decide to respond in a more rational and less emotive way. This can result in improvement in relationships and to perceive more options while facing problems.

  • Better cognitive function: Better focus, memory, time management, processing speed and communication.

  • Optimism: Increased awareness comes with the ability to reframe thoughts in a helpful way.

  • Increased confidence: Self-esteem and self-efficacy increase and people may focus more on their strengths.

  • Improved sleep: Similar to physical fitness, mental fitness also improves quality sleep.


Ways to execute mental exercises and get more mentally fit

  • Mindfulness meditation: The essence of it is to be more able to notice when one’s attention has been distracted by thoughts. It helps to better focus and stay on the task as well as a better stress response (Tlalka, 2019).

  • Get physical exercise: As mentioned earlier, both physical fitness and mental fitness are intertwined. Working out can relax the mind as well as relieve stress and tension.

  • Gratitude Journal: Cultivating gratitude helps to develop more positive emotions and be more optimistic.

  • Practice body awareness: For example, body scan meditation helps to bring awareness to body parts. This can help increase awareness of what is happening in the body and train the attention to remain focused on specific points.

  • Try something different: Doing new things or doing old things in new ways can help produce new brain cells and retain current ones. It also helps the brain to form new connections. For example, cooking a new recipe is able to keep up mental fitness.

  • Try using the non-dominant hand such as writing and eating as it can increase brain activity

  • Socializing, seeking social interactions can be beneficial to the brain in both the short and long term. For example, sign up for volunteering, join a club.

  • Brain training games such as Sudoku because it requires planning for the number placement which helps improve short-term memory and concentration.

  • Learn a new language

  • Taking up engaging hobbies can stimulate and exercise the brain in new ways. For instance, knitting, drawing, dancing, learning a musical instrument.

  • Have adequate rest: Having adequate rest helps increase focus, creativity and energy which in turn helps one to become more productive and efficient.

Regularity and consistency are essential for building strength and fitness in any type of practice. It's no different with a brain fitness routine. What matters is that you begin exercising your mind and strengthening your psychological core as soon as possible.






Reference & Resources

  1. LifeWorks. (2019). Four Pillars of Mental Fitness. https://wellbeing.lifeworks.com/blog/four-pillars-of-mental-fitness/

  2. Miki, A. (2019). Mental Fitness Explained by a CBT Psychologist. Starling. https://www.starlingminds.com/mental-fitness-explained-by-a-cbt-psychologist/

  3. Miller, T. W. (2020). What Exactly Is Mental Fitnss? Mentalflow. https://mentalflow.co/mentalhealth/2020/10/22/what-exactly-is-mental-fitness

  4. Roth, E. (2017). The importance of Mental Fitness. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/mental-fitness

  5. Sinclair, J. (2021). What is mental fitnss? A how to for exercising your brain. BetterUp. https://www.betterup.com/blog/what-does-it-mean-to-be-mentally-fit

  6. Tlalka, S. (2019). Meditation is Mental Fitness-If you Do It This Way. Mindful. https://www.mindful.org/meditation-mental-fitness-way/

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