Physical fitness gets a good amount of attention in health-related discussions, but mental fitness is also important and shouldn’t be neglected in our daily routines.
Mental fitness does not mean intense brain training, but rather regularly engaging in fun, creative exercises that encourage your brain to think critically. When you follow a regular routine of waking up, eating, watching tv, reading a book, and so on, there are not many opportunities for your brain to think in new ways. Actively participating in taking care of your mental fitness can keep your mind sharp, improve your memory, and boost your well-being.
Your mind and body are connected in so many more ways than just anatomically and that’s one of the many reasons why mental fitness is so important.
The mind-body connection is essentially the link between your physical health and your thoughts and behavior. It is important to remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and more and more people are realizing that medical care includes treating the person’s mind and body, rather than just their symptoms.
Studies have revealed that the neurotransmitters and hormones associated with your emotions can also have physical effects on your body, such as your heart rate, sleep patterns, blood pressure, and appetite.
While physical activity increases oxygen flow to the brain and can help boost your attitude, mental health exercises can help your body relax and be more in-tune with itself.
Specifically, meditation is an incredible example of your mind-body connection. Practicing meditation for just 10 minutes a day can help battle depression, ease stress, lessen chronic pain, improve sleep, lower your blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease and so much more.
For some easy practices, download our meditation guide for three different stress-reducing techniques.
You may be surprised by the things you’re doing, and the things you’re not doing that negatively impact your mental fitness.
For something like our brain that’s so complex, it’s almost surprising how simple it can be to keep up our mental fitness.
How often have you challenged your brain since you were in a classroom?
Science and health experts say that you should exercise your brain on a daily basis; very similar to the advice for keeping up your physical fitness.
For those who are concerned with the changes in mental dexterity that come with age, engaging in daily mental fitness exercises is a great way to keep your brain healthy.
Here are the top six that we recommend (and that are easy to accomplish):
Luckily, in today’s world, there is no shortage of brain games built to strengthen and work your brain.
A review that analyzed 151 computerized training studies found that digital games had a significant positive effect on working memory, information processing speed, and brain function. While science backs up the benefits of playing digital brain games, it’s important to be mindful of your screen time and play digital games in moderation.
Looking for brain games that aren’t connected to a screen? Here are a few that generate the same positive effects on your brain:
There are also great books designed to train your brain and include challenging puzzles. Here are a few that we recommend:
While opening a new book can be intimidating due to the time commitment, reading for at least thirty minutes every day is a great brain booster.
Research shows that reading helps increase your fluid intelligence and concentration. Scientists recommend getting in your reading session right before work to increase your focus while on the job.
Research supporting the positive effects of meditation on the brain is endless. Overall, meditation can significantly reduce stress, memory loss, anxiety, and sleeping problems. As well, it can improve focus, retention, stamina, and mood.
In fact, a statistical review of 300 meditation practitioners showed medium to significant size differences in eight separate parts of the brains; including areas associated with memory consolidation and emotion regulation.
To help you engage in this mental fitness exercise, here’s a quick guide to three easy types of meditation.
Not only is learning a new skill fun, it can strengthen the connections in your brain. Research shows that learning a new skill can specifically help improve memory function in older adults.
As for what skills to learn, while that is completely up to your preferences, one study found that the individuals who experienced the greatest improvement in memory were the ones who learned a more challenging new skill — such as crocheting and Adobe Photoshop.
If you have kids, this will be an easy mental fitness exercise to engage in. Set a goal to teach your kids one new thing each day. Depending on their age, you can increase the difficulty of the skill you are teaching; for both your benefit and theirs! In fact, 92% of survey participants agreed that teaching information to someone else increased their own communication skills and confidence.
Additionally, teaching others a skill you are trying to learn significantly increases your own learning and memory of the skill.
However, did you know that a daily 40-minute nap can also boost your learning capability, alertness, perception, memory, and information retention throughout the day? This is because napping pushes memories from the hippocampus to the cortex, which allows for permanent storage and integration with other information. A recent study found that memory especially was improved with napping.
Daytime napping isn’t just for kids, it’s beneficial for you too. Many studies have shown that napping as a regular part of an adult’s routine not only improves short-term memory but long-term too. As well, one study with 23,300 participants found that those who regularly napped three times a week over a period of six years had a 37% lower risk of heart disease.
We especially recommend participating in this mental “exercise” if you, like many others, now find yourself working from home. It has even been proven that a nap is more beneficial to your workday than a standard break.
While this could easily be one of your tasks for number four in this list, the brain benefits of learning a new language are too prominent not to mention.
An amazing fact is that it is never too late to reap the benefits of learning a new language. No matter your age, you can help improve your memory, visual-spatial skills, creativity, and the ability to switch between tasks. Learning a new language is specifically known for delaying the onset of age-related mental decline.
Unfortunately, eating a high amount of added sugar has been linked to cognitive decline, and cutting back can improve your memory over time.
Research has shown that a diet consisting of sugary foods can lead to poor short-term memory. One study found that those with a higher intake of sugary beverages had lower memory capacity and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who consumed less sugar.
For some great advice on changing your diet, check out our blog, Recommended Daily Sugar Limit and Healthier Sugar Alternatives.
While you’re cutting back on foods with added sugar, there is something you can add back into your diet and that is supplements.
We recommend fish oil because it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other compounds that have been shown to slow mental decline. Many studies have shown that including fish oil in your diet may improve memory, especially in seniors.
For more immune-boosting tips and supplements you should prioritize into your diet, check out our Wellness Page which is full of helpful advice and free resources.
Participating in daily brain activities might feel like just another thing to add to your already loaded plate, but the benefits to your memory, stamina, and overall strength of mind are undeniable.
We make time for the things that are important to us. Once you set your own mental fitness as a priority, fitting these brain activities into your daily routine will be a breeze.
For a print-out of nine easy mental fitness exercises you can do every day, download our checklist here.