Mental health and fitness – how connected are they really?

There are many reasons why maintaining good mental health and fitness is essential. This year, the National Fitness Day motto is “Your health is for life.” Fitness is about so much more than short-term gym gains or weight loss – it’s about making sustainable changes that you can take with you through every stage of life. 

We want to help as many people as possible take on this holistic, well-rounded approach to health, revolving around three key themes: mental health, nutrition and recovery, and physical activity. Strike the right balance between each of these areas, and you’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of healthy habits. 

First up, the relationship between mental health and fitness. 

The mind and body are connected a lot more than you’d think! Exercise increases endorphins – the “feel-good” hormone that lowers stress levels, reduces pain, and helps you feel happier all-around. And while the brain isn’t a muscle, it does need to be exercised regularly just like the rest of your body to stay healthy. 

That’s where the concept of “mental fitness” comes in. It’s all about keeping the mind active to help you think more clearly, gain more control over your emotions, have a better memory, and lower the symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Here are some of our favourite ways to improve your mental health and fitness: 

When you’re feeling blah, getting changed and heading to the gym can feel like the hardest task in the world. Getting started is the hard part. Once you start moving and those endorphins start kicking in, you’ll be hooked. There are dozens of ways you can work on your mind-body connection in fitness depending on your interests, physical abilities, and motivation levels. If you’re feeling up for it, sweating it out in a HIIT or boxing class is an amazing way to release frustration or stress. If you’re craving something a bit calmer, yoga, swimming, and jogging are all excellent options. Even getting outside and taking a 20-minute walk in nature is likely to boost your mood. 

Whether you meditate for a half hour or only a few minutes, you’re bound to feel calmer afterward. Meditation can be a challenge at first. (How can you possibly empty your mind and sit still when there are a million different things on your to-do list?!) But just like physical exercise, the more often you do it, the easier it gets. Between apps and free YouTube videos, there are plenty of resources to get you started with meditation and mindfulness in fitness. 

3.Clean eating: 
Having a healthy combination of nutrients helps your brain function at its best. Try to strike the right balance between carbs, protein, and healthy fats and try to limit ultra-processed foods and alcohol, which can have detrimental effects on mental health when consumed too frequently. 

4.Water, water, water: 
Water makes up about three-quarters of the brain, and staying hydrated encourages better brain functioning. Aim for somewhere between three to four litres of water a day, and more on days when it’s hot out or you’re especially active

5.Reading and writing: 
Escaping into a good story can help you forget the stresses of daily life, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It also boosts creativity, which keeps the brain active. Writing has similar benefits, and it’s an excellent way for you to channel your emotions either into short stories, poetry, a blog, or simply a personal journal. 

6.Learning new skills: 
When you learn something new, fresh connections and neural pathways form within the brain. This encourages a stronger memory, and picking up new skills can help you find a sense of purpose, lessening feelings of depression. There are hundreds of new skills out there for you to try, such as language learning, pottery, creative writing, knitting, photography, computer coding, cooking and baking… the options are endless! 

Whether you chose to implement only one of these tips or all of them, you’ll be on your way to a happier and more mentally fit version of yourself. Once you feel stronger mentally, you’ll also find it becomes easier to tackle other aspects of your health journey. 

*Note: We know that mental health is complex, and sometimes it takes more than exercise or mindful behaviours to feel better. If you feel like you’re struggling with your mental health, please speak to your GP to figure out a treatment plan that is customised to you.