It only makes sense that mental fitness, much like physical fitness, starts with a healthy body. If your body is well-nourished and operating efficiently than the rigorous physical and mental tasks you put it through will prove that much more effective.
This simple analogy perhaps says it best: “Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel.” In fact, multiple studies show a link between poor diet and a reduction in mental processing, mental performance and mood disorders.
So how, exactly, does good food fuel our minds?
Mental Health Starts In Your Stomach
It may be hard to believe, but 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. Why is that important to you? Well, serotonin helps regulate sleep, mood and pain sensations. As a result, what you eat directly affects the amount of serotonin your body produces and sends on to fuel your brain.
Now keep in mind, there is conflicting evidence as to what kinds of foods promote the production of serotonin. Evidence suggests that you can’t eat serotonin-dense foods, like bananas, walnuts and pineapple, and see direct results because the chemical doesn’t cross over to the brain.
Instead, the science seems to suggest that eating carbs with a combination of tryptophan can help boost mood. If you think about it more, there’s a reason why so-called comfort foods (aka. mood boosters) are dense, carb rich foods.
At the end of the day, we can take this key point simply to mean that choosing healthy foods (and avoiding fast-food and foods high in fat and sugar) can positively affect our GI tract, and thus, improve our overall mental health.
Healthy Foods Improve Brain Processes
What we eat each day acts as the building blocks for how the brain functions and how information is transferred between various parts of the brain and body. Doctors and nutritionists alike have been saying for years that the vitamins and nutrients consumed daily directly affect improvements in mood and mental health.
- Tip: Stock up on pumpkin seeds to increase your zinc intake. Zinc has been shown to enhance memory and thinking skills, and that it can also help manage stress levels.
- Tip: Eat broccoli to boost vitamin K. This vitamin is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.
- Tip: Eat foods rich in B-vitamins, like chicken, leafy greens and eggs. B vitamins have been linked to improved mood and a reduction in cognitive decline.
- Tip: Try adding sage to the top of your favorite dishes. Sage has been linked to improved memory and concentration.
- Tip: Eat fish, seeds and nuts to boost omega-3’s in your diet. Omega 3’s have been shown to improve thinking and memory.
Before you switch up your diet too dramatically, talk to you doctor about the best choices for your body and your particular nutritional needs. You may find that an adjustment in your diet is just the thing to help you improve mental preparation and mental health.
At Lakeland Fire, we’ve pulled together resources on top workouts, healthy eating and physical fitness in the past, but we are really proud of our recent comprehensive Firefighter Mental Toughness Guide covering everything from mental preparation skills to healthy sleep habits, and resources designed specifically for firefighters.
Interested in learning more about mental preparation and how what you do in your down time can help improve your on-the-job and on-the-course performance?
Lakeland’s guide is filled with resources that stretch beyond just physical fitness, focusing on the importance of mental preparation and health to help you on the job and on the training course.
You can also #GearUp with Lakeland Fire. Lakeland Stealth™ Turnout Gear is the ultimate in fire protection technology. Advanced ergonomics combined with cutting edge materials give you superior protection with maximum freedom of movement. Learn more about Lakeland Stealth and #GearUp with Lakeland.