We’re familiar with the idea of physical fitness, and how it’s not the same thing for all people. You might hit the gym five times a week, be a regular swimmer, runner or yogi. We all know how important physical fitness is for keeping healthy but how much do you know about mental fitness?
We caught up with Neuroscientist behind the patented drink formula Ārepa, Professor Andrew Scholey to gain insight into the phenomenon of ‘mental fitness’ and learn about how to keep our brains sharp. Here are some of his top tips:
Like physical fitness, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different exercises work for different people. In fact, there’s an important link between exercise and mental fitness and mental wellbeing is a multi-faceted approach:
- Aerobic Exercise
Although all types of exercise seem to help, recent evidence suggests that aerobic exercise is the key. Aerobic exercise may help switch on neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells) in the hippocampus – a brain region crucial for memory formation. The current consensus is that swimming is amongst the top exercises for the brain, but even exercises like walking can be beneficial.
- Following a Healthy Diet
Diet is important and increasing evidence suggests that whole dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet can help mental function in terms of both mood and cognitive functions. There is research suggesting that components of fruit and vegetables may be key. For example, compounds called flavonoids have been shown to benefit brain function, mood and mental performance. Flavonoids tend to be responsible for the coloured pigmentation in vegetables and are also found in tea, coffee and certain spices and berries. There is work underway in Australia focusing on the ‘purple diet’ to prevent dementia. I’m currently involved in a study looking at a combination of Mediterranean diet and mild exercise to reduce dementia risk.
- Consuming Berries, especially neuroberries
Berries are rich in a class of flavonoids called anthocyanins which have a number of health benefits. These include improvements in blood flow and glucose control, reduced inflammation and oxidative stress and changes to the gut microbiome. All these processes are known to help cognitive functioning and improve the mood. In fact, some berries have measurable effects on neurotransmitters. For example, it has been shown that the New Zealand blackcurrant, neuroberry, inhibits and enzyme called monoamine oxidase. This is the same action as some pharmaceutical antidepressants and has the net effect of increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin and lifting mood. Add some neuroberries to your breakfast in the morning and reap the mental benefits! These incredible berries are a key ingredient in Ārepa drinks, the brain drink clinically proven to enhance focus.
- Load up on Vitamins
There are also other food components that can improve mental fitness. One widely studied example is L-theanine which is a component of tea. Isolated theanine has been shown to increase relaxation along with the associated alpha waves in the brain, and to protect against stress and anxiety.
The effects of isolated nutrients are probably more controversial. Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence that certain vitamins (including the B group vitamins and vitamin C) can have benefits on mood and cognition and it’s no harm to try a supplement if you want an extra boost!
Other factors include sleep, socialisation, spending time in nature and meditation. All of these factors play an important role in keeping us mentally ‘fit’. Just as we prioritise keeping our bodies fit by going to the gym, we need to place the same weight (if not more) on what we do to keep our minds active & functioning optimally.