physical fitness vs. mental fitness

Why Physical and Mental Fitness Matter

September 7, 2023
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Ah, the gym—a place of sweat, tears, and the eternal quest for those elusive six-pack abs.

We all know the importance of physical fitness. Maybe you're someone who regularly hits the gym or takes long morning runs. Kudos to you for keeping your body in shape! But how often do you think about the fitness of your mind? You see, your brain needs its own form of "exercise" to stay fit. And while it's easy to overlook, mental fitness is just as critical as physical fitness for overall well-being.

In this article, we're going to delve into the interplay between physical and mental fitness. We'll define what each of these terms really mean, and why you can't truly have one without the other. You'll learn about the scientific reasoning behind the crucial role of mental fitness, some tips for how to have a strong mind, and why focusing solely on physical fitness might be selling your overall health short.

So, while you're flexing those muscles, let's also flex that grey matter and explore a more holistic approach to health.

Defining Physical Fitness

Physical fitness is often defined as a set of attributes that people have or achieve, which relates to their ability to perform physical activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical fitness is "the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies." This encompasses a range of abilities, from cardiovascular endurance to muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination. In simple terms, physical fitness ensures that your body is equipped to handle the physical stress of everyday life without getting overly fatigued.

In other words, physical fitness is not just about being able to run a mile or lift heavy weights; it's an integrated measure of all the bodily functions that help you engage with the world in a physical way.

The American Heart Association breaks down physical fitness into key components like aerobic (endurance) exercise, strength training (muscular strength and endurance), and flexibility exercises. These various components work in tandem to improve overall health, increase your body's efficiency, and reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

By focusing on physical fitness, you are essentially equipping your body to better handle the challenges posed by your environment, be they as simple as carrying groceries up the stairs, or as complex as navigating through a crowded subway station without losing your breath. Therefore, physical fitness should not be viewed as an isolated aspect of health but rather as a crucial factor that contributes to overall well-being, which, in turn, has a profound impact on mental fitness and emotional stability.

Defining Mental Fitness

Mental fitness is a concept that goes beyond the absence of mental disorders and speaks to the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of an individual. It is the collection of activities, habits, and attitudes that contribute to emotional resilience and cognitive sharpness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a "state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community." Mental fitness, in this sense, equips you with the tools to handle stress, make reasoned decisions, and maintain a balanced emotional state.

The components of mental fitness include cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and stress management.

  • Cognitive ability refers to skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and focus.
  • Emotional intelligence involves the capability to recognize, understand, and manage one's own emotions, as well as to influence the emotions of others.
  • Stress management skills help us cope with the pressures of daily life.

Wondering how to have a strong mind? Various strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive behavioral techniques are often used to improve mental fitness. These practices have been shown to improve various aspects of mental health, including reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. And if you're interested in giving them a try, we recommend the Balance app, which is totally free for your entire first year.

Just like physical fitness, mental fitness is not a state to be achieved; it's an ongoing process. Cultivating mental fitness can significantly improve the quality of your life, increase your lifespan, and enrich your experience in relationships and activities.

While physical fitness focuses on the capabilities of your body, mental fitness ensures that your psychological and emotional aspects are also in peak condition.

Together, both physical and mental fitness contribute to your overall well-being and the ability to navigate the complexities of life effectively.

The Impact of Physical Fitness on Mental Fitness

While different, physical fitness and mental fitness are highly related. So, it's important to reframe the discussion from mental strength vs physical strength to the relationship between physical fitness and mental fitness.

Apart from physical health, regular physical exercise has many benefits for mental health and well-being:

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Studies have shown that exercising regularly can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by releasing endorphins, which are the body's natural mood elevators. Exercise also helps in reducing stress levels by decreasing cortisol levels in the body.

Improved Cognitive Function

Additionally, regular physical activity can improve cognitive function, including memory and attention span. Studies have shown that regular exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory formation and storage in the brain. Furthermore, exercise has been found to improve blood flow to the brain, leading to increased oxygen and nutrient delivery. This can result in improved cognitive function, including better attention span, concentration, and problem-solving skills.

Greater Happiness

Physical exercise has also been found to increase self-esteem and confidence levels, leading to an overall sense of well-being and happiness.

Why Physical Fitness Alone Isn't Enough

While the benefits of physical fitness are widely acknowledged, focusing solely on physical health can leave an important aspect of well-being unattended: mental fitness.

Physical exercise can undoubtedly improve your cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and even your mood due to the release of endorphins. But again, this isn't a competition of mental strength vs physical strength. Both are important.

Mental fitness addresses the cognitive and emotional aspects of your well-being that are just as vital for a fulfilling life. Studies have shown that mental resilience can affect various health outcomes, including recovery from illnesses and overall life expectancy.

Mental fitness equips you with the tools needed to handle life's ups and downs, make sound decisions, and maintain a balanced emotional state. Skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence are crucial in coping with stress, developing healthy relationships, and navigating complex situations.

According to research, individuals with higher levels of mental fitness and emotional well-being are better at coping with stressful situations and recover more quickly from illnesses compared to those who are mentally unfit.

In short, physical fitness contributes to your ability to engage with the world in a physical way, but mental fitness is what allows you to engage with the world in a meaningful way. Your relationships, your work, your sense of self, and your overall quality of life are profoundly impacted by your mental fitness. In other words, while physical fitness can help you live longer, mental fitness can make those extra years worth living.

To achieve a state of complete health and well-being, it's essential to focus on both physical and mental fitness. After all, your mind and body are intricately connected, and one can't function optimally without the other.

Prioritize Your Mental Fitness with Elevate

Incorporating physical and mental fitness into your daily routine can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be.

With Elevate, a brain training app designed to improve cognitive abilities, you can prioritize your mental fitness effortlessly; it makes the answer to the question of how to have a strong mind easy. The app offers a variety of games and activities that target areas like focus, memory, and problem-solving skills. By dedicating just a few minutes a day to these exercises, you can significantly improve your cognitive abilities and overall mental resilience.

Remember that physical fitness and mental fitness go hand in hand when it comes to achieving complete well-being. So don't neglect one for the other! Download Elevate today on iOS or Android and take the first step towards prioritizing both aspects of your health.

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