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Kent Probst, BS, MEd
Kent Probst is the owner of Long Healthy Life Blog
Why 10 Healthy Habits for Mental Fitness are Important
No matter who you are or what you do, you likely experience days in your life when you’re not feeling 100% mentally. It’s important to practice some of the 10 healthy habits for mental fitness to reduce the effects of stress, improve relationships, become more productive, and live a longer healthier life.
There are endless things that can contribute to mental health problems, and it may seem as though it’s just a fact of life that you have to deal with.
Thankfully, while you may not be able to completely avoid stress and other problems of life, there are at least 10 healthy habits for mental fitness that can reduce the negative effects they can have on your life and health.
What are the 10 Healthy Habits for Mental Fitness?
1. Add Resistance Exercise to Your Routine
We all know that exercise has many benefits.
Ever notice how you feel better after you exercise?
The benefits of exercise are virtually endless regarding how resistance exercise improves cognitive function.
Weight training, or resistance exercise, is very effective for preventing cognitive decline.
How weight training helps cognitive function:
- Increased blood flow to the brain.
- Increased angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels)
- Increased neurogenesis (formation of new neurons)
- Increased production of neurotrophins (proteins that improve survival of brain cells and help with brain plasticity).
During weight training, something else occurs – greater production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and acetylcholine function to help learning, memory, sleep and mood.
2. Eat Foods that Promote Brain Health
The foods you eat play a large role in keeping your brain healthy and supporting a positive mood. Multiple studies show that healthy, balanced diets improve cognitive function and may lower the risk of depression and other mental and mood disorders. Food supplies important nutrients that are required to produce neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that help regulate your mood.
Some of the best foods to support brain function include:
- Fermented foods. These include foods like kefir, yogurt with live and active cultures, kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut. Fermented foods supply a natural source of probiotics, which are known for supporting digestion and a healthy gut microbiome. Because of the connection between your gut and brain, known as the gut brain axis, probiotics can support brain function as well and have been shown by research to have a positive impact on mood and mental health conditions by helping produce and regulate neurotransmitters.
- Berries – Berries contain flavonoids, which are plant compounds that give them their bright color and can help improve memory. Research shows that eating berries can also prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease. In addition, berries are rich in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation, improve cell survival and nerve cell transmission.
- Green leafy vegetables– Foods like spinach, kale, arugula, and romaine lettuce provide sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which improve overall brain function and can help slow cognitive decline (more about this down below).
- Tea & coffee. Natural caffeine from beverages like green tea and coffee has been found to improve mental alertness, focus, memory, and overall brain performance. Just be sure to enjoy versions that aren’t loaded with added sugars.
- Fatty fish. You probably hear about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish often, and for good reason. About 60% of your brain is made up of fat, and essential omega-3 fats provide anti-inflammatory properties that play a huge role in determining your brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Examples of fatty fish include tuna, salmon, sardines, herring, and trout. Omega-3 fats can also be taken in supplement form.
- Walnuts. While all nuts can be brain-supportive by providing the antioxidant vitamin E as well as minerals like magnesium, walnuts have the added benefit of providing a type of essential omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies also show that regularly eating walnuts can protect against the damaging effects of oxidative stress and inflammation and protect against cognitive decline, mood disorders, and many other aspects of your health.
- Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables. These include things like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, mango, and bell peppers. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is a key factor in protecting brain cells and preventing mental decline.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
When you improve your sleep quality over the long term, you’ll be happier and more productive during the day.
Your brain recharges and resets itself while you sleep, so the importance of good sleep cannot be understated when it comes to improving brain function.
Not getting enough sleep negatively impacts many things including attention span, reaction time, learning abilities, alertness, mood, hand-eye coordination, and even short-term memory.
Getting a good night’s sleep (7 to 9 hours) helps you detox your brain of beta amyloid plaque, the substance found concentrated in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
You can read more about the risks of not getting enough sleep and natural remedies to improve sleep in this post.
4. Keep Stress Levels Down
Let’s face it – stress is a fact of life.
There are many sources of stress in our lives, but if you let stress overwhelm you, it can result in many health problems.
One of the secrets of mental fitness is to keep stress at a level where it doesn’t have an adverse effect on your health.
There are a number of options for reducing stress in your life. Taking a holistic approach will serve you well.
Consider adding self-care activities such as meditation, spending time with nature, journaling, and massage as ways of managing stress in your life.
5. Maintain a Good Social Network
Meaningful relationships can help stave off depression that can result from spending a significant amount of time alone.
Even having a pet, such as a dog or cat, can be a source of emotional support.
Sources of building a social network:
- Group exercise
- Hobby groups
- Book clubs
- Dog parks
- Neighborhood groups
Having a social support network to help you through the tough times will go a long way.
6. Keep Your Brain Active and Challenged
You already know that one of the most insidious effects of aging is a decline in cognitive function.
It’s frustrating when you have short term memory loss, or have difficulty with problem solving and reasoning.
Almost everyone wants to improve cognitive function.
There are things you can do to improve cognitive function without drugs.
A Mayo Clinic study published in the medical journal Neurology found that people who engage in two or more mentally stimulating activities have a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment.
The participants in the Mayo Clinic study engaged in the following activities:
- Reading books
- Using a computer
- Social activities
- Craft activities
- Playing games, such as puzzles and crossword
The study also found that the more you do, the lower your risk.
7. Minimize Social Media
Millions of people around the world use social media to stay connected with people, get news and information, and for business.
But it has a downside – it can become addictive. Look around and you’ll probably see people using their cell phones to access social media. Excessive use of social media can cause anxiety and depression.
To improve your mental fitness, try to spend less time using social media and more time doing things like meditation, socializing with friends and family, spending time with nature, or volunteering for charity.
8. Prioritize Your Life
You may be surprised that this is one of the 10 healthy habits for mental fitness. We live busy lives, and it’s easy to try to accomplish too much. Many of us have too many things on our plate.
Make a list of things that you need to do in a day. Put what you perceive as the most important things higher on the list, and the least important things lower on the list.
Look at the list and reassess what items you can take off the list without adversely affecting your life.
After assessing the list, you may find that the things you thought were important are not as important as you thought they were.
One option is to do the activities that are less important less frequently.
By prioritizing your life, you’re likely to have more free time and less stress.
9. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Being independent has its benefits, like improving your self esteem and self confidence.
But it’s important to realize you can’t do everything by yourself.
This is where interdependence can help. If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems, and the situation is getting out of your control, there’s no shame in getting help from a mental health professional.
A mental health professional can help you with behavior modification, formulation of coping skills, and development of strategies for dealing with life.
10. Incorporate Positive Thinking
Positive thinking is important because of the improved mental fitness and quality of life it brings.
People generally prefer to be around other people who constantly think positively and are optimistic.
Furthermore, positive thinking can help you become more successful throughout your life.
Benefits of positive thinking include:
- Better leadership skills
- Improved coping skills
- Improved productivity
- Lower stress levels
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” – Buddha
Recognizing that chronic stress and other difficulties of life can have significant effects on your mental health is the first step to improving mental fitness.
It’s important to recognize the signs of being over-stressed and to practice these 10 healthy habits for mental fitness to improve your quality of life for a lifetime.
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