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Why mental fitness is important for your overall health

Why mental fitness is important for your overall health

You probably know that staying physically fit can have a positive impact on your everyday life. Did you know that mental fitness is just as important? Research has found that higher levels of mental fitness are tied to better psychological resilience. Additionally, there seems to be a mind and body connection between better physical fitness and better mental fitness. Improving your mental fitness could help you learn to better manage challenges in your life. First you need to understand how mental fitness works, and how University Medical Center New Orleans can help improve yours.

What is mental fitness?

Your mental health can affect your mental fitness. Mental health refers to your overall psychological, social and emotional health. This includes your mood, your feelings, and many behaviors. Mental fitness on the other hand refers to your ability to use flexible coping skills to manage adversity so that you can thrive. If your mental fitness is strong, you are better able to handle stress, balance your work and family, have healthy relationships and seek help for your mental health when you need it.

Why mental fitness matters

One of the benefits of mental fitness is that it can ideally help you become increasingly mentally healthy. Increased mental strength, flexibility and endurance are three of the key components of mental fitness. Learning and building these mental processes can help you address the ups and downs of daily life without feeling overwhelmed. Better mental fitness may help prevent severe:

  • Anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Stress

Additionally, mental fitness can be helpful in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). High-stress workplaces including the U.S. Marine Corps and professional firefighters implement mental fitness programs for their teams to lower PTSD rates and promote emotional wellness.

How you can improve your mental fitness

Mental fitness research is a relatively new field, but there seem to be several strategies that may boost your mental fitness. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a specific type of talk therapy that works to change your negative thought processes and other automatic patterns. Research has found CBT can successfully improve functioning for many people. Learning new behaviors and coping strategies may help increase your resilience.
  • Brain exercises. Play games, do a daily crossword or try memory-training exercises—anything that stretches your thinking skills. Keeping your brain active may help keep it flexible (and could improve memory, too).
  • Mindfulness. Meditating or practicing deep breathing can help calm and restore your inner calm. A regular meditation practice may even rewire neural pathways in your brain, changing the way you react to stress. If sitting still and meditating are hard for you, meditative exercise such as yoga or tai chi could produce similar results.
  • Practicing gratitude. Research has found that a daily gratitude practice, such as keeping a gratitude journal or counting your blessings in prayer, can boost positivity and well-being.

The connection to physical activity

Another component of mental fitness is regular physical activity. What this looks like for you will depend on your own physical health. Maybe you go on a 15-minute walk every day and try to notice the plants growing in your neighbor’s yards. Maybe you attempt a challenging bike ride every weekend. Although getting out in nature is proven to reduce stress and help increase resilience, working out at the gym is still great. One study has found a connection between higher VO2 max (a sign of better cardiorespiratory health while exercising) and cognitive functioning.

Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep every night can also improve your fitness, mentally and physically. But if you’ve been taking steps at home to try to change your mental fitness and nothing is helping, it’s time to call a University Medical Center New Orleans professional. Talk therapy or other interventions can change your mental fitness and improve your mental health.

Get a checkup of your mental fitness at the Behavioral Health Center at University Medical Center New Orleans today.