You probably know exactly how to shape your body, right? keep working out. Eat (relatively) clean. Get proper rest and recovery. But as more and more of us are realizing, physical fitness is only half the equation.
The term “mental health” refers to a positive state of well-being created through the general maintenance of brain and emotional health. In other words, train the way you think, feel and act the way you work your biceps or quads. But you can’t look at your mind the same way you look at your muscles, says certified mental performance coach Carl Olson, which can make the concept difficult to grasp.
“Understanding what’s going on between someone’s ears is much harder than understanding their physiology,” explains the former assistant director of sports performance psychology at Penn State. “You have to really know yourself, and then you have to figure out how to manage yourself in different circumstances, which is usually individual to individual.”
Such a self-assessment might be more intimidating than a single-rep max, but in today’s world, mental health is taking center stage. According to research from global market intelligence agency Mintel, nearly four in five Americans (78%) cite mental and emotional health as a source of inspiration for exercise, slightly ahead of physical fitness (76%). Additionally, a recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association revealed that one in four Americans made a New Year’s resolution to improve their mental health this year.
Thankfully, there are many resources to advance the field. Here’s a brief look at three mental health approaches, followed by Ohlson’s thoughts and feedback from our own experience, so to speak, to help keep your head above the game.
guided by voice
Thanks to advances in telemedicine, app development, and mental health awareness, your phone can be the perfect brain trainer. Many mindfulness, sleep management and guided meditation apps — like Calm ($70 a year), Headspace ($70 a year) and Breethe ($89 a year) — have been shown to help people’s brains rest, recover and re-energize It’s effective.
“People talk a lot about stress management,” Olson says. “I prefer to talk about energy management because being stressed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some energy can be mobilized and taken to a good place. You just need to know how to regulate your energy levels, and there are apps that do a good job of that .”
I rely on Calm to help facilitate my meditation schedule. I love how easy it is to find the right mindset through the app’s coaching service. But I wouldn’t recommend the app for serious mental health issues that are best treated with the help of a trained professional.
drug your brain
Whether you’re training a new deadlift PR or a more intuitive mindset, the supplement industry has the answer. Many supplements are marketed as brain boosters, most notably in a subcategory called nootropics. These “smart drugs” — such as Onnit’s Alpha Brain line ($35 and up) and Thesis nootropic formula ($119 a month supply) — claim to boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence and motivation. But since dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA — in this case, they target sensitive structures of the brain — you need to be extra careful.
While he doesn’t necessarily embrace nootropics, Olson respects the link between nutrition and the brain. “I recognize that if I’m on a performance team and I have a fellow nutritionist there, there’s a reason for that,” he says. “Because nutrition has to have these other effects on an individual’s health and well-being.” The science backs him up.A review of 21 studies from 10 countries was published in psychiatric research Healthy eating patterns that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods were found to be associated with a lower risk of depression. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “the best brain foods are those that protect your heart and blood vessels,” including green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, berries, tea, coffee, and walnuts.
I’ve tried Onnit’s Alpha Brain product and after a while, I definitely feel a boost. But I’ve experienced similar results with simple dietary switches. After all, that’s what supplements are — things you don’t get from normal nutrition. So before you buy a bottle, try adding some of the above foods to your diet to see if you get the same benefits—without the added uncertainty or expense.
exercise mental muscles
Due to the variables that make up mental health, adopting an appropriate training regimen can seem daunting. However, mental exercise can be done for much less than physical exercise. Apps like Lumosity ($48 a year) and Elevate ($40 a year) are growing in popularity, using puzzles, quizzes and challenges as a quick, unobtrusive way to boost your well-being.According to 2018 published in Basic research on medical science monitoring.
Brain puzzle games, among other things, can do a lot for your health, Ohlson notes. “They have a counteracting effect on the stress response, and they can help boost your immune system,” he comments, with one piece of advice: “Whatever you’re doing, give your full attention. It doesn’t matter what the activity is; What matters is your philosophy on the activity.”
I use Lumosity a lot, and the gaming aspect has proven to be a great way for me to stay focused and be in the moment. I can always find 10 minutes a day for cognitive training, especially when I can hold it in the palm of my hand.