Whilst fitness is widely associated with our physical health, it is evident that maintaining our mental fitness and therefore mental health is equally as important. Statistics from the NHS show that 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from a mental illness, with groups such as young women and those receiving benefits particularly at risk.
The 2016 Mental Health Foundation report showed that females between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely to experience a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) as their male counterparts.
The same report showed that two thirds of those receiving Employment and Support Allowance experience common mental health problems and the same percentage report suicidal thoughts, with 43.2% having made a suicide attempt and one third (33.5%) self harming.
With such alarming statistics, it is therefore more crucial than ever that we do as much as we can to protect our mental health. Whilst many of ways we train to keep physically fit are obvious, like going to the gym or running, there actually a number of approaches we can take to keep mentally fit too.
Meditation can relieve stress and fight depression
A whole host of reports have pointed towards the positive effects of meditating on relieving stress generally and fighting mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. For example, a Biological Psychiatry study demonstrated the benefits of meditating on the mind. The publication found significant changes to the brain on scans done more activity in the portions of the brain dedicated to processing stress, focus and calmness after just three days of meditation.
These kinds of findings have been echoed elsewhere. A study by the AMA Internal Medicine review found that that meditation helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalised anxiety disorder.
Burgs’ online meditation blog outlines in significant detail the variety of ways meditation can benefit us. After a number of years studying and practicing meditation in Asia under the guidance of some of the world’s greatest living masters, Burgs’ moved back to England to teach meditation himself. He has hosted hundreds of meditation retreats and translates his profound ancient knowledge into accessible language. His blog includes articles mental stability, the physical health of our body and purely being content with our own being.
Exercise can improve physical and mental fitness
Whilst physical fitness is typically associated with our physical health, exercising and keeping fit can also have a profound effect on our mental fitness. The effects are widespread, with scientists long showing that exercise has the ability to impact our mood, stress levels, self esteem, and crucially, reduce the impact of depression and anxiety.
This has also been backed up by studies. For example, a Netherlands Mental Health survey showed that physical exercise was negatively associated with the presence and first-onset of mood and anxiety disorders.
A Nursing Research paper also showed that physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms, with other evidence suggesting it may also be helpful in treating clinical anxiety.
Crucially, you can undertake this physical exercise during a wide range of different activities. Whilst taking part in a competitive sport is perhaps the most obvious way to carry out more physical activity, there are also a number of simpler ways to do this. Instead of driving everywhere, why not take a brisk walk when possible? Or better still, why not invest in a bicycle?
The Department of Health recommends that adults should be active daily and complete 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity over a week, and this is easily achievable with the wide amount of ways you can exercise .
A healthy and balanced diet is key for mental fitness
Ensuring you have a healthy and balanced diet is also imperative in maintaining this mental fitness. Have you ever eaten a fast food meal and felt completely and utterly sluggish in the hours after?
This is because fast food releases energy quickly and causes blood glucose levels to quickly rise then drop again.
If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired and irritable, and this could be the onset for long term mental health problems. It is therefore recommended that you instead eat regularly to keep your blood sugar level steady, and consume foods that release energy slowly.
In addition, mental health charity Mind also suggest a number of other dietary habits to boost your mental well being. These include making sure you eat breakfast, eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day and avoiding foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sugary snacks, sugary drinks, and alcohol. The Royal College of Psychiatrists outline an in depth exploration of how to alter your diet for the benefit of your mental health.
Thanks for reading,