What is Mental Fitness? Plus 7 Tips to Become Mentally Fit

Because mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness.

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

There’s a lot of buzz around the term “mental fitness” lately, and it can be a pretty vague concept, particularly if you’ve never heard it before. Sure, we can understand physical fitness — that’s a tale as old as time (Disney pun unintended). But how do we translate that to the mind … and why does it matter? 

What Is Mental Fitness?

Just how strong is your mind? There are a few different definitions of this concept, but it’s more than just ‘brain exercises’ (though those play a big role, too!). Here’s what mental fitness can comprise:

  • Healthy cognitive function
  • Healthy emotional care
  • Stress management, resiliency, and strategy
  • Attending to mental health 
  • Healthy neurological function
  • Self-awareness

My own therapist once told me that “therapy is the gym, not the spa” — for the mind, that is. This is the first time I realized that, in the way we exercise our bodies, it’s also important (crucial, really!) that we exercise our minds as well. 

How Does Mental Fitness Help Us? 

So what’s the benefit of mental fitness? Feeling happier and less stressed seems like enough of a reward in and of itself, but mental fitness said, “But wait, there’s more!” This type of self-care practice can also help improve your physical health. Less stress means fewer stress-related illnesses and a lower chance of stress-induced and stress-correlated disease. And with more mental acuity, you’ll be able to get through life a little bit easier, too. Relationships can improve, and you’ll be a better friend and partner to yourself as well. 

Imagine your life if you were…

  • A little more optimistic and positive
  • Less reactive and less quick to anger
  • More present
  • Sleeping better
  • Connecting with people you love more easily and peacefully
  • Enjoying more confidence
  • Learning new concepts more easily
  • Getting sick less

In fact, this is such a powerful practice that there are even mental health gyms popping up — it’s still a new concept, but it’s pretty incredible to see that there are emerging resources to support our minds in this way!

7 Ways to Practice Mental Fitness

Some of these will be new concepts, and some you might already have as part of your routine! Here’s how you can give your brain some TLC and get on a ‘get swole’ program for your cranium.

#1 Brain Exercises

Cognitive training, sometimes called ‘brain exercises,’ can take many forms. There are apps and programs that design videogame-like working memory tasks, as explained by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and the Alzheimer’s Association says that mentally challenging activities (think: new hobbies and practices, games, reading, etc.) can have short and long term effects on your brain. Apps like Lumosity help make this a little bit easier, providing games to exercise your brain in different ways. You can also try picking up a new language (this is a BIG one!!) or taking a class in something fun and challenging (an art form like painting, a subject you’ve always wanted to study, etc.). “Engaging in this type of education will help keep your brain healthy and may protect your brain from developing dementia,” reports the Alzheimer’s Association.

#2 Physical Exercise

But wait, weren’t we talking about brain exercises?? Yes, and physical activity also helps your brain. Part of mental fitness is — you guessed it — physical fitness, especially if we try a new type of physical activity! This practice can protect your brain (specifically your cognitive abilities) as you age, essentially keeping your brain young and nimble. Yet another reason to try something brand new on FitOn… Keep your brain on its proverbial toes with a new type of exercise.

#3 Therapy

Therapy with a licensed mental health professional is one of the most foundational ways to take care of your mind and work on your mental fitness. This can be traditional talk therapy (psychotherapy), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) — you name it. This will be a cornerstone of your brain care. Though it can be tough to find a therapist, the rewards are incomparable.

#4 Emotional Health Coaching and Courses

Outside of therapy, coaching-style sessions, counseling, and classes can also support your emotional well-being. These are a bit more niche and tougher to find, but if you consider yourself on the more ‘advanced’ side of mental fitness, this could be a fun avenue to explore. 

#5 Meditation

Meditation is seen as one of the original ‘gyms’ for your brain — it has profound effects on the mind! This mental exercise has been used for thousands of years and has plenty of clinical evidence to back up its strength. Begin your practice now with some guided sessions. (Bonus: meditation is free, and you can do it anytime, anywhere, with no barrier to entry).

Consider one of these FitOn meditations:

Train Your Mind: Get ready to do some mental push-ups with this mind-training meditation, where you’ll strengthen your muscle of attention in the mind.

Unclutter The Mind: It’s difficult to be present for our lives when we are distracted. Use this short practice to clear your head and be in the moment. 

#6 Get Excellent Sleep

Want to take care of your brain? Don’t just get ‘good’ sleep; get excellent sleep. According to a 2014 study in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, “While sleep is necessary to ensure normal healthy cognitive functioning, it can also enhance performance beyond the boundaries of the normal condition.” This includes attention, language, reasoning, decision-making, learning, and memory. Healthy sleep, according to Harvard, also has a direct impact on mood, anxiety and stress management, and overall mental health, leading to a “dramatic improvement in mood.”

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Sleep

#7 Don’t Let Yourself Go on Autopilot

While there are many benefits to a routine, there are some downsides to being so routine-dependent that your brain goes on autopilot. Try to mix things up to ‘reactivate’ those neural pathways. Take a different route to work. Brush your teeth with a different hand. Travel to a place you’ve never been, where you don’t speak the language. Take a shower at a different time of day. Read a new book. Walk in a new neighborhood. Whatever you do, don’t let your brain ‘fall asleep’! Spicing up your life in these small ways — with a tiny bit of curiosity — can have a positive impact on your mental fitness.

Ready, Set, Go! 

Ready to start working on your mental fitness just like you work on your physical fitness? It’s so important and doesn’t take much to get started. Consider starting with one or two of these mental fitness tips and see how they go. Then, from there, implement something else. Before you know it, mental fitness will be seamlessly woven into your current routine.