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HEALTHY STEPS

MEDITATE YOUR WAY TO MENTAL FITNESS

Usually when we think about fitness, we picture someone jogging or hitting the gym, and it’s no secret that physical fitness is an important element of being healthy. However, let’s not forget about another type of fitness that’s equally important — fitness of the mind. Mental fitness is defined as a “state of mind in which we are open to enjoying our environment and have the capacity to use our mental abilities to the fullest extent” (Psychotherapy Plus). With mental fitness comes the ability to live in the moment and make the most of our lives in the present.

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Maintaining and nurturing mental fitness is especially important for retirees, as it is a critical component of healthy aging. Contrary to what many people assume, the latest research suggests that the brain has the remarkably undiminished capacity to alter and reorganize itself throughout life, including in the latter years. Experts believe that maintaining brain health is possible by engaging in activities that support mental fitness (The Dana Foundation). The brain works a lot like a muscle — the harder you use it, the more it grows.

Mental Fitness Activities

Activities that strengthen mental fitness include physical exercise, learning new things, and affirmation or positive self-talk. Another helpful activity is meditation, which has been practiced for centuries. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned yogi, engaging in meditation can help you reap the numerous benefits of mental fitness, including calmness, emotional well-being, resilience, and concentration and focus.

Many resources exist that explain how to train yourself to meditate, such as books and websites. Some people find that audio books and videos that provide guided meditation are especially helpful in getting them started on their journey.

Meditation Tips

We recommend that beginners start out meditating for just three to five minutes at a time. The trick is not to overwhelm yourself. Following are a few simple tips on how to meditate your way to mental fitness:

  • Find the Right Place
    A quiet place with as few distractions as possible is ideal. Depending on your environment, this might be challenging. Modern life is often noisy. You may need to close your windows to block sounds from the street, ask those living with you to be quiet for a period of time, or turn off the radio. You might also try dimming the lights and lighting a scented candle to create a calming and relaxing space.
  • Focus on Your Breathing
    Most of us rarely pay attention to our breathing, since it’s an activity that happens unconsciously, so it might feel strange to do so at first. However, when you focus on breathing, you begin to breathe more deeply. This provides you with a sense of awareness. There are different ways to focus on breathing. Some pay attention to how their lungs expand and contract, others focus on the sounds associated with inhaling and exhaling. Find whichever part of breathing centers you the most and focus on it.
  • Respond Gently to Wandering Thoughts
    This is important. Even experienced practitioners of meditation will occasionally have thoughts that wander into their meditation, such as bills to pay, errands to run, or various life difficulties. When this happens, don’t criticize or ignore these thoughts. Instead, acknowledge them, but don’t spend time with them. Nudge your attention back to the sensation breathing has on your body.

As with any habit, the habit of meditation takes time and patience to form. But don’t delay! Drop the remote and pick up a mat. Forget about the household chores for a bit and remember how important it is to be mentally fit. You’ll be happy you did.

Sources:
Psychotherapy Plus: http://www.psychotherapy-plus.org/philosophy/
The Dana Foundation: https://www.dana.org/StayingSharpSuccessfulAging
The Conscious Life: http://theconsciouslife.com/how-to-meditate-a-guide-for-beginners.htm

4/26/16