One of the perks of working at Fit 4 Life is that we have a great fitness centre equipped with quality equipment which I can take advantage whenever I like. As I’ve written in other blogs, I enjoy working out and still train hard three to four times a week (although I do miss having some of the advantages of youth such as pain-free joints!)
Of course, everybody knows that physical activity is good for the body but at Fit 4 Life we also believe that life is more than just the singular dimension of the physical realm, and so we encourage our members to develop health in other areas of life including financial, social and spiritual fitness.
This week I thought I would blog about fitness for the mind. There’s an old saying out there that goes, ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste’, so what are a few ways we can develop and improve our mental health?
I’ve listed ten simple activities below to help improve mental fitness which I found on this website. The blurb in italics below each heading is from this website, but I’ve also added my own personal comments under each of the blurbs to show how I participate – or don’t participate – in the recommended mental health activity.
1. Play Games
Brain fitness programs and games are a wonderful way to tease and challenge your brain. Sudoku, crosswords and electronic games can all improve your brain’s speed and memory. These games rely on logic, word skills, math and more. These games are also fun. You’ll get benefit more by doing these games a little bit every day — spend 15 minutes or so, not hours.
Our family has always played lots of games (although we’ve slipped a little in the last year!) Often for our family fun-nights we play games together and we usually play a lot of games when relatives come to stay. Sometimes we hold an all day ‘game-marathon’ where we play six or seven different games throughout the day as a family with a prize for the person with the most points at the end. (If you do this be sure to choose a variety of games involving luck, skill and strategy. If you select all skill and strategy games like 500, Risk and Monopoly then younger family members can become bored and they are disadvantaged). As I think back to my childhood my family was always playing games. In fact, even now when mum has us all over for lunch or dinner we usually end up playing card games after the meal. Games and game playing is a great way to keep your mind active!
Daily meditation is perhaps the single greatest thing you can do for your mind/body health. Meditation not only relaxes you, it gives your brain a workout. By creating a different mental state, you engage your brain in new and interesting ways while increasing your brain fitness.
To me, as a Christian, meditation is prayer. I don’t sit around chanting mantras but I do have a healthy prayer life. At times in my life I have kept a daily prayer journal, although now I usually just pray as I go about my daily business plus I including some specific prayer times a couple of nights of the week when I am by myself. You have to be conscious about including prayer and meditation in your day, or the day just seems to ‘go by’. (As an example, we meet as a family every weekday morning before the kids leave for school and have a ‘family meeting’ during which we always – or almost always – include prayer). The important thing with prayer or meditation is to be conscious about it rather than mindless. Having a focal point such as things to give thanks for, or even pressing matters of concern, helps to focus your mind and prevent it from wandering.
3. Eat for Your Brain
Your brain needs you to eat healthy fats. Focus on fish oils from wild salmon, nuts such as walnuts, seeds such as flax seed and olive oil. Eat more of these foods and less saturated fats. Eliminate trans fats completely from your diet.
I don’t have much to say here because probably in the West we’re getting enough fat for the brain! My wife has been making my son take fish-oil tablets, as someone told her that it was good for improving kid’s memories and their retention. (I’ve also been sneaking a few of them myself, as my wife and kids say that I am beginning to forget things!)
4. Tell Good Stories
Stories are a way that we solidify memories, interpret events and share moments. Practice telling your stories, both new and old, so that they are interesting, compelling and fun. Some basic storytelling techniques will go a long way in keeping people’s interest both in you and in what you have to say.
People tell me I am a funny story teller. I don’t think that I am, but I realise that I do have a lot of stories – mainly because a lot of bizarre things have happened to me throughout my life! Stories come out naturally when you have a relaxed and trusting atmosphere, so create a dynamic where you can tell your stories – like going out for dinner with friends or family meals. In my family we eat dinner together as much as we can, and having that kind of forum often turns into story-telling time. In fact, just a couple of nights ago I ended up regaling my children with some funny stories from my childhood, and I also shared about things that my grandparents had done that really impressed me when I was growing up. It was a lot of fun and it’s also a great way to capture the past and not forget it. Story-telling is great for the memory!
5. Turn Off Your Television
The average person watches more than 4 hours of television everyday. Television can stand in the way of relationships, life and more. Turn off your TV and spend more time living and exercising your mind and body.
I don’t have much problem with this one. I don’t watch much TV apart from the occasional nature show or a documentary on the History channel which intrigues me. I recognise that TV isn’t going away anytime soon and I’m certainly not a TV Luddite; (we have two TV’s in our home, although one is mostly used for watching DVD’s). But it does concern me that so many people spend so many thousands of mindless hours watching the tube. Rather than being a source of entertainment it really is ‘amusing them to death’. There’s lots of research on how detrimental TV can be to your mind and body which you can check out on Wikipedia . From a mental health perspective, one of the biggest problems with TV is that it does all the ‘thinking’ for you and you don’t really have to use your mind. When you read a book your brain has to create mental pictures and ‘work’, whereas when you watch TV it provides all the images for your brain so your brain is actually quite sedentary. We also tend to remember a lot of what we read, whereas try to recall even 10% of what you watched last night on TV and you will struggle to do it!
6. Exercise Your Body to Exercise Your Brain
Physical exercise is great brain exercise too. By moving your body, your brain has to learn new muscle skills, estimate distance and practice balance. Choose a variety of exercises to challenge your brain.
I have no comment here apart from encouraging you to come and join Fit 4 Life!
7. Read Something Different
Books are portable, free from libraries and filled with infinite interesting characters, information and facts. Branch out from familiar reading topics. If you usually read history books, try a contemporary novel. Read foreign authors, the classics and random books. Not only will your brain get a workout by imagining different time periods, cultures and peoples, you will also have interesting stories to tell about your reading, what it makes you think of and the connections you draw between modern life and the words.
Following on from point six about TV, the title of this one should be probably be shortened to say, ‘Read Something’! Reading is a dying discipline and the world will be the poorer for it. Ask ten people under the age of 25 what they are reading (apart from the compulsory reading of their school text books) and eight of them will tell you that they don’t read anything! This is a tragedy, as one of the greatest actions humans can participate in is reading. Of course I am promoting the reading of quality and/or educational literature – not the reading of trashy novels or that sort of thing. I love to read and I always have between 6 to 10 different books on the go at any one time. (I have them lying all around the house and even at work, and whenever I have a few spare moments or am eating a meal I usually pick one of the books up and keep reading). It’s a sad fact that when I left school at age 17 for the next eight years until around age 25 I didn’t read much at all – apart from bodybuilding magazines! However, I have more than made up for it in the last 20 years, and now own an extensive library of books in a multitude of literary genres including history, biography, philosophy, Christianity and religion, finance and investing etc.
All of this reading has had a huge positive impact on my life and I can testify that reading on a broad range of subjects is fantastic for mental health. In fact Charlie Munger, the vice-president of Berkshire Hathaway, (Warren Buffett’s company), was quoted as saying, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero”. Well said Charlie!!
8. Learn a New Skill
Learning a new skill works multiple areas of the brain. Your memory comes into play, you learn new movements and you associate things differently. Reading Shakespeare, learning to cook and building an airplane out of toothpicks all will challenge your brain and give you something to think about.
I’m not sure I will ever be a great cook as my wife excels in that area, and I don’t see the point of learning the skill because of this. But I do try and learn new skills when I can especially if I see that they are practical and helpful. I have three brothers – two older and one younger – and they are all good at building things with their hands and with engines, mechanical and electrical stuff and that sort of thing. (I was always the klutz in my family when it came to these tactile skills and stories of how I messed things up and broke things abound in my family). However, down through the years through a conscious effort on my part I’ve been able to pick up a few basic carpentry skills and the like. I’m still not great with mechanical stuff, but I feel I have more than made up for it by taking the time to increase my financial and investment skills, so I now pay mechanics to do the work for me rather than fooling around with it myself – only to strip another thread on the engine manifold and then take my anger out on something in close proximity with a sledgehammer(!)
Learn some new skills, but realise part of good mental health and fitness also involves staying calm and serene.
9. Make Simple Changes
We love our routines. We have hobbies and pastimes that we could do for hours on end. But the more something is ‘second nature,’ the less our brains have to work to do it. To really help your brain stay young, challenge it. Change routes to the grocery store, use your opposite hand to open doors and eat dessert first. All this will force your brain to wake up from habits and pay attention again.
This one is challenging for me as I am a creature of habit. I like my routines, especially my travel routines as they help simplify my life, make me more efficient, and allow me to put mental energy and focus into areas where it really counts – like thinking. If you want to eat your dessert first and open cupboards with your left hand go ahead… I doubt doing these sorts of things will radically contribute to better mental health, but it probably won’t hurt!
10 Train Your Brain.
Brain training is becoming a trend. There are formal courses, websites and books with programs on how to train your brain to work better and faster. There is some research behind these programs, but the basic principles are memory, visualization and reasoning. Work on these three concepts everyday and your brain will be ready for anything.
I checked out a few of the recommended websites. You can sign up for crosswords, Sudoku, Mensa tests, lateral thinking websites and so on. There’s a lot on the internet to help provide challenges for your brain, and although I’ve never been a huge crossword fan I have set up a reminder in my Outlook to try doing a crossword once a month over the next year. (We’ll see how it goes towards improving my mental fitness and health!)
So hope you found some of these ideas and thoughts useful.
Bryce – Fit 4 Life Director
This blog is quite long already – but who cares. (You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to!) Anyway, I had written what I had written above when I started thinking about how music could also be a great way to increase one’s mental health and fitness.
Music is ubiquitous and is found in every culture and civilisation since the dawn of time. Music has communicated stories and transferred knowledge of history and tradition down through the ages. It inspires us to action, challenges our emotions and even connects us with the divine through worship in song. There’s even an old saying – evidently from Playwright William Congreve – that ‘Musik has charms to soothe the savage beast’. (I’m not game to try singing a song to a pit bull the next time it attacks me, but there’s a lot of good things about music, and so take advantage of inspiring songs and lyrics to improve your mental fitness).
Having said this and in line with my earlier comment about how young people don’t read anymore but are rather immersed in TV and video, I decided to find out what the most popular song in New Zealand is right now to see what the younger generation are listening to and see how their mental health and fitness might be improving through their choice of music.
From this website I learned the number one song in New Zealand right now is called ‘Party Rock Anthem’. I had never heard of it before but Wikipedia gave me the following information about the song and the group:
“Party Rock Anthem” is a song performed by American electro hop recording duo LMFAO, featuring Lauren Bennett and GoonRock. It was released as the second single from their second album ‘Sorry for Party Rocking’ in 2011… The single has gone to number one in Australia, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, France, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It also reached top five in Canada, Norway, Italy and the United States. The song spent eleven weeks at number one in New Zealand and ten weeks in Australia. It is the longest running number one single in New Zealand since Smashproof’s hit single “Brother” in 2009, selling over 30,000 copies there, whereas in Australia it is the longest running number one single since I wish I Was a Punk Rocker With Flowers in My Hair by Sandi Thom in 2006 and is the best-selling single of 2011 and decade so far there. It has sold over 1,350,000 digital downloads in the United States alone, and has reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_Rock_Anthem
There is some benefit to be derived by staying in touch with the world and keeping up to date with trends, so I thought perhaps I had been missing out on something. In additional research I learned that LMFAO consists of two rapper DJ’s called ‘Redfoo’ and ‘Skyblu’, and that the Youtube video for the song ‘Party Rock Anthem’ has had over 109 million views so far. (Also one of my co-workers explained to me what the acronym ‘LMFAO’ stands for but I’m not prepared to tell you!)
I was highly intrigued to find out how people in possession of names such as ‘Redfoo, Skyblu and Goonrock’ could improve my mental health and fitness through their music, and it turns out I really don’t feel that they can.
In fact to prove it I have decided to reproduce the lyrics to the number one song in NZ, ‘Party Rock Anthem’ below for you. (Actually, only the first half of the song’s lyrics have reproduced as I wasn’t prepared to print the second half, seeing they didn’t contain anything more profound than the first half!)
LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem Lyrics
Party rock is in the house tonight
Everybody just have a good time
And we gonna make you lose your mind
Everybody just have a good time [X2]
We just wanna see yaa!
In the club party rock look up on your girl
She on my jock non stop when we in the spot
Booty move away like she on the block
What the track I gots to know
Top jeans tatto cause I’m rock and roll
Half black half white diamino
Gane the money out the door
I’m runnin through these hoes like drano
Hey!!! I got that devilish flow rock and roll no halo
We party rock yea! that’s the crew that I’m reppin
On the rise to the top no led in our zeppelin
Party rock is in the house tonight