Mental wellbeing may play second fiddle to physical fitness, but keeping your brain fit and strong is just as important as it is for any other muscle.
Although there are no set definitions of what constitutes mental strength or fitness, the mind/body connection is undeniable. When your brain is firing on all cylinders, you’re more like to make better decisions, feel happier and, when it comes to sport, perform better.
The link between the brain and the body is something Montreal Impact mind coach Antoine Guldner has explored during his career. Working with the Major League Soccer team, Guldner explains that focus, even when fatigued, is a major challenge for professional athletes.
In support of this, a study conducted by Lee Crust of the School of Sports Science and Psychology, York St. John College, found that mental toughness can boost physical performance. Studying 48 male undergraduates, Crust et al found a “significant correlation” between “mental toughness” and the time a “relative weight could be held.”
Essentially, what the evidence seems to suggest is that being able to combine focus and mental endurance can result in better performances. With this being the case, it makes sense to train your brain in a bid to improve the way you train your body.
To help you become a cerebral titan, try out these mental exercises the next time you’ve got a rest day:
Do Some Sums
Counting quickly is one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp. Even though the average darts player might not look like an athlete, their ability to perform multiple calculations in their head under time and pressure is second-to-none.
Playing darts is maybe not the most obvious way to practise your mental arithmetic, and an easier way is to pull out your phone and play blackjack. Aside from almost everyone owning a smartphone, blackjack forces you to think about multiple things at once.
So, on top of having to do some sums, you also need to think about your next move, the dealer’s cards and more. Inside the Mr Green mobile app, it’s not only possible to play blackjack for free but in 26 different ways.
Each variant has its own subtle nuances, which means you’ll have to stay switched on at all times. The end result is that you should become better at thinking through problems under pressure. This, in turn, will improve your focus.
Although it might sound like something a spiritual healer would say, there is actually science to support the idea of mindfulness.
Described as a thought process that involves nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experience, being mindful can actually be used to treat mood disorders. As demonstrated by Dr. Norman A S Farb et al, mindfulness interventions promote increased tolerance of negative effects and improved wellbeing. Like improving your focus, learning to become more relaxed in the moment can help your physical performance.
Think about the moment before a big lift or stepping onto a sports pitch. Nerves can easily affect you, so training your brain to become more peaceful and positive could be hugely beneficial.
A great app for this is PAUSE. Created by PauseAble, the app features various scenes where you have to chart the movement of a colored circle. The aim is to get you to focus on a single point, block out external distractions and concentrate on the moment.
While there’s no guarantee that being mindful or more focused will make you fitter and stronger, it certainly won’t hinder your progress.
In fact, with so many athletes and professional sports teams now acknowledging the power of the mind over the body, it could be the case that a few synaptic reps will give you the extra edge you need.