Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Written by Jamie Susino

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May 12, 2023

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Our members, clients, and trainers all work so hard to keep a strong, healthy body. We see it everyday and we’re here for it! But what about keeping a strong, healthy mind? Our physical progress may be greatly affected by our mental health in general. Lower stress levels can seriously help us physically on our fitness journeys. Feeling ready to tackle day to day challenges (both physically and mentally!) is empowering. Body and brain must work in collaboration for us to stay on our game, achieve our goals, and maintain a happy healthy life!

I’m going to focus on some basics here that I hope you find helpful, but please keep in mind that most mental health issues don’t have a one-size fits all solution. There may be a number of different things that will help you see improvement. Asking for external help when needed for someone who is really struggling with mental health is incredibly important and incredibly accessible regardless of insurance coverage (BetterHelp and TalkSpace are great options!) There shouldn’t be a stigma over feeling better overall, so please reach out to a professional if you think it might help.

That being said, take what you think might be advantageous and applicable for your own personal journey. Here are some tips to help keep your mind just as healthy as your physical body.

Exercise

This probably seems obvious and as a member of NexT Fit, you already know this! We usually leave the gym feeling better than when we came in. For one thing, it’s usually because we’re happy it’s finally done! There is also a sense of accomplishment and pride that occurs after completing something so taxing. Exercise can even alter our brain chemistry. During and after exercise your body has released endorphins that act as a natural painkiller to the body. We have also released a number of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine. This can lead to overall decreased anxiety, better focus and concentration, and even promote neurogenesis, or brain cell regrowth.

Even if it’s just a little bit of movement each day, this can contribute to better mental health for a better state of being.

Rest

Quite the opposite of our first point in this blog, but rest is just as important as physical activity. This might mean physical rest as well as mental rest. Taking a few hours or even a whole day to mentally and physically recharge can give us a whole new energy for days to come. Everyone recharges differently and we can’t operate with an empty fuel tank so do what you need to fuel up. Some folks like to be quiet and alone and some like to engage with others in a relaxing way. I personally spend a lot of my downtime reading books, listening to podcasts, and doing yoga to clear my head. These activities allow me time to turn my brain off for just a little bit so I can better tackle critical thinking and problem solving when I’m ready to turn it back on. I also highly recommend putting your computer or cell phone down for a few hours every weekend so as not to be disturbed while you recharge!

Social Engagement

As an extrovert, I need a bit of social interaction in a non-stressful state to fill my mental health meter each week. Plan a day with some close friends or an activity with a loved one to destress and add a little bit of joy to your life. A good engaging conversation with a friend or a jovial family dinner can alter brain chemistry in the same way that exercise does! Did you know that a 20 second hug with someone you love can release oxytocin, the love hormone? This hormone can be beneficial for depression and anxiety. Similarly, laughter can help lower cortisol levels and increase dopamine! High cortisol levels can be linked to weight gain and muscle weakness while dopamine will have a calming effect. So gather your besties and laugh it out for some amazing mental health benefits.

Get Outside

The weather is just starting to get better and pretty soon the sun will be shining more often than not. According to the American Psychological Association, being in nature can have plenty of cognitive benefits such as better focus, lower stress, and even happiness. We know that Vitamin D can be a huge mood booster and can even reduce depression. A little bit of sun exposure can go a long way (but if you can’t get out often, try supplementing with one of Thorne’s Vitamin D options!)

Studies have also shown that “grounding” can have some great benefits, both physically and mentally. Grounding involves getting outside and making direct contact with the earth. This could be standing barefoot in the grass, laying out in the park, or possibly even enjoying a natural body of water. This has been shown to improve mood, pain, fatigue, sleep, and anxiety. Who doesn’t love to get outside and breathe a little bit?

Unplug

We are constantly engrossed in media – social media, television, movies, etc. Even as you’re reading this, you’re sitting in front of a computer screen or staring at your phone. It can be super hard to unplug, even if just for a little while, but it can be very good for your mental (and visual) health. Sometimes we’re overstimulated by so much activity, even if it seems mindless! Media causes our brains to be constantly running so we don’t have a chance to take a mental break. It’s also incredibly exhausting that we can be reached at any given moment of any given day. Not to mention it can be a huge mental struggle to not compare ourselves to unrealistic standards that we see in TV/movies and especially on social media. Regardless of if an image is real or altered, it’s hard to digest what you see on instagram without the comparison aspect. Taking some time away from that and reconnecting in real life can be super important.

So take a break. Turn your phone to Do Not Disturb or even fully OFF if you can. Take an hour or two to do something that involves no technology or something relaxing. Enjoy some time by yourself or with a loved one and relish a true human connection!

I try to implement most of these tips during my week (and especially on weekends) to keep my brain sharp and my mood positive. Keep in mind, these are just tips to help you improve your lifestyle. For those truly struggling with mental health in any aspect, I highly recommend you seek out a professional and find what methods work best for you. Take what you like from this article and see what benefits you the most to be your best self and live your best life!

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