Pumping some iron and sprinting on the track are great ways to keep your physical fitness in check — but while being physically fit is important for your overall well-being, it is just one part of the whole picture.
Mental fitness is just as necessary as physical fitness, and they often go hand in hand to ensure your holistic wellbeing is in tip-top shape. But what exactly is mental fitness, and how do the components of mental fitness contribute to a healthier, happier life overall?
Let’s take a look at the six pillars of mental fitness so you can better manage stress and achieve a healthier outlook on your life.
What Is Mental Fitness?
Your brain can’t do deadlifts or bicep curls to stay in shape, but that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your mind to keep your mind feeling good. Mental fitness means keeping your mental and emotional health in the best state you can.
It’s finding a balance between exercising your mind and staying busy while also giving yourself time for relaxation. Your mental well-being and the way you perceive yourself directly correlate with how you apply yourself to the world around you. Actively managing your stress and maintaining your mental fitness can allow you to engage in more thoughtful behaviors with the environment around you.
For example, if you work a corporate job that exhausts you and you barely have any time to enjoy activities that make you feel good, your mental fitness is probably less than ideal. If you have fatigue or burnout, it might signify that you need to focus on your mental fitness.
The good news is that while your brain isn’t technically a muscle, it is a resilient organ that can grow stronger like your hamstrings or your pecs — it just takes a little bit of work.
What Are the Six Pillars of Brain Health?
The six pillars of brain health work together to ensure your mind functions at full capacity. When you are able to use all of these facets, your overall well-being is likely to be exactly where you want it to be.1. Medical Health
When we think about being “healthy,” one of the first things we probably think about is avoiding sickness and injuries, and that mindset works for mental fitness — Injuries to your physical body can directly affect your mental health.
In fact, if we look at the motivational theory behind the hierarchy of needs, medical and physical wellness is the first and most important rung on the ladder. If you’re not in good physical health, you naturally need to focus your efforts on getting better before you can focus on the other things that make your needs feel met, like enjoying hobbies.
Of course, going to the doctor isn’t necessarily an exciting need that most people would say they enjoy fulfilling, but it’s an important step in achieving holistic wellness.
Gaining better control over common health issues like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol can all help to make you feel happier and healthier — both physically and mentally.
The cool thing is that when you combine the positive benefits of some of the other pillars, like exercise and proper nutrition, you might also be able to control your medical health without reconfiguring your whole routine. You can think of these pillars as working synergistically to make you the best person you can be.
2. Physical Exercise
It might seem strange to say that physical exercise is important for your mental wellbeing, but the positive effects of exercise cannot be understated. In fact, exercise can boost brain health by fueling the brain’s stress buffers.
Exercise is a form of stress on the body. This initially spikes the stress response, known as the fight or flight response. While hormones like cortisol and epinephrine are high during exercise, research has found that these stress hormones are lower after bouts of physical activity.
This suggests that if you workout often enough, your stress levels may be lower on average compared to people who don’t regularly exercise.
Exercise can also enhance your health by increasing muscle mass and reducing body fat. This can boost your confidence and self-image, which can help make you feel more comfortable and happy in your own skin.
Here’s the thing — the idea of going for a run or lifting a barbell is probably a source of stress for a lot of people. If you fall into this boat, you’re not alone. The good news is that exercising doesn’t need to feel like a chore.
Try attending a group fitness class to add a social component to your workout, or try an alternative form of working out that doesn’t even feel like exercise. Things like dancing, playing a sport, or going for walks during lunchtime are great ways to stay in shape without feeling like you’re forcing yourself to stick to a workout schedule.
3. Food and Nutrition
Eating isn’t just a necessary activity for survival — it’s also a great way to support your brain health when you do it properly.
Your brain is your #1 tool. You use it for everything you do 24/7, so why not make sure you’re providing it with the nutrients it needs to keep running smoothly?
There’s a saying that you are what you eat, and to an extent, it’s not wrong. By nourishing your body with healthy foods, you contribute to maintaining your physical and mental well-being.
That’s why it’s important to nourish your body and your brain. Foods like green leafy veggies, fatty fish, walnuts, and berries have been found to support brain function with brain-fueling nutrients like vitamins D and B12, as well as omega 3s.
MOSH is a protein bar made for your brain. It includes components that support your mind, like lion’s mane, ashwagandha, and MCT oil, while also supplying your body with 12g of protein to help keep you fueled for whatever you’ve got next on your agenda!
It’s the perfect pick-me-up after that intense cycling class, or just as a delicious snack before you hop into your weekly sales meeting.
With no added sugar and no GMOs, you can fuel your brain and body with wholesome nutrients to help keep you feeling good.4. Mental Fitness
We talked about mental fitness earlier, and when you think about making your brain as healthy as possible, it all comes back to staying mentally fit. Mental fitness means finding the balance between keeping your brain active while also being able to rest and relax from time to time.
Keeping your mind sharp by playing brain games like crossword puzzles or sudoku, doing problem-solving games, or teaching yourself a new skill are all ways to exercise your brain and fortify your mental health.
But just like physical exercise, your rest days are just as important, and that includes the time you give your brain to rest and recover from daily stress.
You can reduce stress in your life by teaching yourself relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or deep-breathing exercises. You can even combine physical exercise with mental fitness by taking a yoga class to realign your body and mind at the same time.
Regardless, mental fitness is one of the most important pillars for brain health, as it can boost your self-esteem and let you engage in more thoughtful interactions with others. When you feel secure in your own mind, you’re likely to feel secure when you express yourself outwardly, too!5. Social Interaction
Humans are social creatures at heart. And not only does hanging out with friends give you a great opportunity to entertain yourself and pass some time, but it can also protect your brain, too!
Having a solid social support system is a foundation for holistic mental wellbeing. Socialization and participating in social activities can keep your mind agile and improve cognitive function. Plus, it can make it feel like your life is more satisfying overall. When you need a shoulder to cry on, having a support system is necessary for mental health.
Surrounding yourself with other people as often as possible can allow for ideas and advice to flow freely between everyone, which can improve mental health and wellbeing overall.
You can combine social interaction with other pillars to kill many birds with just one stone. Consider bringing some friends to a fitness class to improve physical wellbeing and enhance social interaction. Then, grab a healthy smoothie and enhance your nutrition while continuing to be social.
Essentially, everything's better with a friend. If hanging out with some pals also means you’re improving your brain health, be sure to take time to be social as much as possible.6. Sleep and Relaxation
As we mentioned just above, while it’s important to be around others, it is equally important to take some time for yourself. Particularly, you want to make sure you’ve got self-care down to a science so you can reward yourself for all of the hard work you do each week.
Self-care refers to anything that serves the purpose of making you feel calm, cool, and collected. This is as simple as watching a TV show or movie for some people, but you might also find that reading a book in the tub, meditating with some essential oils in the air, or just playing a solo video game is the activity that makes you feel at ease.
One of the best ways to keep yourself feeling energized is by getting the right amount of sleep each night. Your body and brain stay active when you sleep, and research has found that sleep plays a role in removing brain toxins that build up while you’re awake. If you’re not getting enough sleep each night, these toxins can build up and lead to long-term damage.
Not to mention, your brain also uses sleep as a time to dedicate some energy to consolidating short-term memories into long-term storage, which is why studying for a test or preparing for a presentation the night before is so much more effective than trying to cram right before.
What Are the Benefits of Mental Fitness?
Keeping your brain in check has tons of benefits for your life right here and right now — better productivity, a more positive outlook, less feelings of fatigue, and much more.
But, one of the major benefits of working towards mental fitness right now is most felt in the future. Incorporating the six pillars of brain health into your daily routine can help you support your mental fitness and fortify your brain for the long run.
Mental fitness can even allow you to reframe thoughts in more helpful ways to have a more optimistic and compassionate mindset. This all stems from increased confidence in yourself that can easily flow onto others in everyday conversations.
How Can I Exercise My Brain?
You can sharpen your memory or cognitive function by playing board games, doing puzzles, or using brain training apps to “work out” your processing, decision-making, and recall abilities.
One of the best ways to improve your brain health might be practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being aware or conscious of your own sensations and emotions. It allows you to become more in-tune with your mind without judgment or worry.
For some people, it’s as simple as just closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. For others, true self-awareness requires structure, practice, and patience. Deep breathing techniques and forms of meditation can be super helpful when it comes to being mindful of your mindfulness.
We care a lot about physical fitness, and while your well-being on the outside is essential, the way you feel inside is just as important. Mental fitness refers to the strength of your mind and emotional state.
When it comes to your overall brain health, there are six different pillars that all sync to ensure that you’re looking, feeling, and acting your best.
- Medical health and physical fitness refer to your physical state of well-being. It emphasizes the importance of staying active and tending to any medical injuries.
- Nutrition is another pillar that can support your mind and body with the nutrients it needs to thrive.
- Social interaction emphasizes the importance of a social support system.
- Mental fitness refers to the necessity of controlling your emotions.
- The final pillar, sleep and relaxation, reminds you to take time for yourself so your body can recharge.
Hitting all six pillars can be a challenge, but it’s a good goal to set for yourself. When you allow these facets to balance and harmonize with one another, you’ll start to see improvements in your daily well-being right away!
Mental Fitness | Michigan Civil Service Commission
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology
Working out boosts brain health | American Psychological Association
Oxidative Stress and the Central Nervous System | PMC
Why is Socialization Important for Brain Health? | Asbury
Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke