Get Physical to Get Mindfit

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man runningThere is no doubt that your psychological (mental and emotional) health will be closely interrelated to your levels of physical health and wellbeing.

Your brain is the part of you where your thinking originates. It is also the repository of your memories, it functions to regulate emotions and, behaviours and also is the part of you which contains opinions and beliefs about yourself that form your self-concept.

If you become physically unwell, are physically fatigued, or are neglecting to care for your physical self, this can impact on all the organs in your body, including your brain. This is turn can have a detrimental impact on your thought patterns and emotional and behavioural regulation.

Investing in protecting your physical health and improving your physical fitness can help you to become and stay mindfit.

To be mindfit is to be committed to continually engaging in activities that enhance your levels of mental and emotional  strength, stamina and resilience (your psychological fitness).

The likes of good nutrition, good sleeping habits, regular exercise, consciously considering what substances you put into your body, being proactive about checking yourself out, and taking care of your appearance too, not only helps to protect your physical health, they help protect your psychological health.

The impact of illness on your psychological health

If you were battling with some form of illness you would expect that to impact many organs in your body (heart, lungs, kidneys etc), but do you stop to consider how it is impacting on the functioning of your brain as an organ?

A recent example of a physical health condition that impacts psychological health too is Long-Covid. According to the NHS website alongside many physical symptoms, this condition can impact individuals mentally and emotionally, with symptoms such as developing problems with your thinking and memory (‘brain fog’) and experiences of depression and anxiety often being present.

The impact of a life-changing diagnosis on your psychological health

A life-changing physical health diagnosis such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer is a major life landmark moment that can not only have a profound physical impact on lifestyle, quality of life and lifespan, they of course impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing too.

As well as having to get to grips with and adjust to what your future will be like when you receive such a diagnosis, you will also most likely have to let go of and grieve for what your life was like before. Even with successful treatments, condition management or a cure, you are likely to be changed as a person by having to address receiving a physical health diagnosis, not to forget the fear, sadness and anger it may well naturally provoke inside you.

The Prostate Cancer UK website gives a good insight into what it is like to live with that condition, the British Heart Foundation website gives information on what you will need to consider when recovering from a heart attack. Whereas the Diabetes UK website takes you through how to adjust your life to live with that condition.

The impact of physical neglect or abuse of your psychological health

Then we come to the impact that lifestyle and choices you make can have not only on your physical health but also on your psychological health too.

Not getting enough sleep will  leave you feeling physically tired and lethargic, the Mind website highlights that it can also lead to damage to your self-esteem, and increased feelings of worry and stress.

The Mental Health Foundation website clearly sets out how eating well can improve your sense of wellbeing and mood. The Mayo Clinic website reports that those who eat a poor quality diet were more likely to report symptoms of depression.

Using certain substances can also have a detrimental impact on your psychological wellbeing. The NHS website reports that smokers are much more likely to develop depression over time than non-smokers. The DrugRehab website reports that alcohol is a depressant substance that can negatively affect your state of mind. The Rethink website reports that cannabis can provoke anxiety, paranoia and even developing psychosis.

Coming at it from the other side, the Very Well Mind website shows how exercise can have a beneficial impact on a range of mental health conditions.

Six steps to being both physically fit and mindfit

There are many proactive and protective measures you can take, and ways of living that you can adopt, that will not only reduce the risk of you developing physical health issues (or coping and recovering better if you do), they will also benefit your mental and emotional  strength, stamina and resilience. Helping you to become and stay mindfit.

Step 1 - Diet: Try to eat as well as you can, and as much as you need and no more. Your body needs food as ‘fuel’ to help it function properly, that includes your brain. Taking in more food than your body needs to function could lead to weight gain, which may adversely impact both your physical health by putting on weight, and your self-concept in terms of dissatisfaction with your physical appearance. The Medical News Today website lists 12 foods that can boost your brain function (and as such will benefit your mental and emotional wellbeing). Also if you can, avoid too much sugar, which the Psychology Today website says can harm your mental health.

Step 2 - Sleep: Sufficient rest is essential for your body and your brain too. The NHS website estimates that the average adult needs 6-9 hours of sleep per night. As well as giving your body the chance to physically rest, sleep also gives your brain the opportunity to recharge.

The Priory website highlights how sleep deprivation can adversely impact your psychological health, with symptoms such as:

  • Low mood.
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Erratic behaviour.
  • Poor cognitive functioning and performance (e.g. forgetfulness, making mistakes and slower thinking than normal).

It may not always be possible to get a full 9 hours every night, but try to aim for at least 6. It is also good if you can to go to bed and get up at approximately the same time every day so your body will start to get to know when it is time to sleep.

Step 3 – Exercise: Being physically active, as much as you can, in whatever way you can, will benefit your psychological health. The Mental Health Foundation website very clearly sets out how mental health can help manage and boost your moods.

For those dealing with stress and anxiety, exercise can help discharge the adrenaline and cortisol released by your body when you feel under pressure. It can also increase blood flow to the brain, helping your thinking to function more effectively.

Taking time out to do some form of exercise can also give you a bit of mental space away from your life and any challenges you may be facing, to help you come back to those challenges in a more refreshed way.

Step 4 - Substance Use: As an adult, you will make the choice for yourself on which legal and/or illicit substances you choose to put into your body, but make that a conscious and informed choice. Many drugs can have profound and even life-threating impacts on your physical health and will also impact on your brain based on the type of substance they are. The Mind website lists the four main groups of drugs, each of which has a particular impact on the brain, and by association thoughts and moods. They are:

  • Stimulants.
  • Depressants.
  • Opioids.
  • Hallucinogens.

Taking a stimulant when you are already stressed and anxious will only make things worse, or taking a depressant when you are feeling low will only drag your mood down further. The Frank website has an A-Z of drugs which will tell you exactly how each substance will affect you both physically and mentally.

Step 5 - Health Screening: There are certain physical health conditions that you, or men more generally may be prone to due to family history, lifestyle or factors such as race or age.

Illnesses such as cancer and diabetes can be influenced by both genetics and lifestyle. An article on the BMJ website shows that those of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin are twice as likely to develop type-2 diabetes compared to those of European origin. The British Heart Foundation website shows that males are more likely to die from coronary heart disease than females. Prostate cancer, which about 1 in 8 men in the UK are diagnosed according to the Prostate Cancer UK website mainly affects men aged 50 and over.

With any of these physical illnesses/conditions, the earlier you get diagnosed, the quicker you can get treatment, and the sooner you can start taking steps to prevent, cure, or mitigate the impact of that condition on you. Be proactive about monitoring yourself for any signs and symptoms of physical changes or deterioration. If you spot or suspect something is wrong, don’t wait, get it checked out.

Being proactive about health screening not only gives you the best possible chance of being physically fit and healthy, it limits the likelihood of you having to psychologically deal with a life-changing diagnosis, and it’s a very good way of boosting your self-concept by making the proactive effort to care for yourself.

Step 6 – Grooming: We cannot all look like the bloke who has just stepped off the pages of a health and fitness magazine, or look like a movie star. However, making an effort in relation to your personal care and grooming not only presents your physical self to your best, it also can boost confidence, which is good for your psychological health too.

Taking care of yourself in terms of your appearance is a practical way to care for yourself, and shows your own mind that you are worthy of that care and effort.

It does not have to be about looking perfect or trying to present yourself to match up to some unachievable male aesthetic ideal. Take pride in yourself, present yourself to the best of your potential, and let others see that you value you.