The Role Of Mental Fitness In Reducing Anxiety And Depression Symptoms

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated October 31, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Since 2020, the diagnosis rate for anxiety and depression has increased by 25% globally. This number accounts for 76.2 million new cases of anxiety disorders and 49.4 million new cases of depressive disorders. For this reason, additional support systems and interventions can be essential for helping individuals find support. Psychologists continue to develop strategic systems to help individuals manage and improve their symptoms with exercises for mental fitness.  

We often talk about physical fitness. Through strength and endurance training, your body begins (in many cases) to grow stronger, improving how physically fit you are. Mental fitness training can be similar. The concept emphasizes the positive impact of a healthy psyche. In addition, having better mental fitness may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in those impacted. 

Are You Ready To Boost Your Mental Fitness?

What Is Mental Fitness?

In 1964, behavioral scientist and public health expert Dr. Andie Knutson introduced the concept of mental fitness to counteract the term mental illness.

He and other positive psychologists aimed to promote therapeutic treatment practices that used proactive mental health interventions for flourishing wellness and emotional health. In his work, mental fitness was "the modifiable capacity to utilize resources and skills to adapt to challenges or advantages, enabling flexible thriving." One may build a store of personal resources to utilize to help them face the challenges of daily life. 

Mental fitness may be understood by comparing it with the concept of physical fitness. Often, individuals become physically fit after participating in behaviors and exercises caring for their bodies. This work follows the same principles and may be achieved through efforts to care for the brain. Although this may not be easily measured like physical training, it can be assessed through surveys, tests of a person’s problem-solving skills, or observation with a professional. 

With a solid sense of mental fitness, you may feel a sense of control over your behaviors and their connection with your thoughts, as well as your current or past emotions. Improving this may give you a greater ability to accomplish routine tasks throughout the day. Just like you can improve your physical health, you can develop your strength through exercises that target growth areas or by meeting with a psychology professional like a therapist. 

Research Overview: An Internet-Based Intervention Promoting Mental Fitness 

The following in-depth discussion of a recent research study provides background and relevance to the therapeutic capabilities of mental fitness. It showcases the results from participants of an online psychological intervention for wellness. 

The goal of this study was to examine the effectiveness of an online psychological intervention. With over 280 million people experiencing depression worldwide, studies like this can help therapists understand the most effective ways to treat psychological conditions. Improving well-being can reduce incidences of depression by equipping individuals with strategies to maneuver through social and emotional sources of distress.


The participants in the study were adults in the Netherlands recruited through newspaper and social media ads offering a chance to improve mental fitness. Interested people could register through the website, receiving an email summarizing the study and linking to a consent form and questionnaire.

284 people were randomly placed into the intervention and control groups, with 143 finishing the intervention and 141 placed on the control waiting list. The mean age of participants was 43.2 years old, and 79.6% were female. The majority had higher education and paid employment.

The Intervention

The online platform used in the study was an online psychological intervention that individuals finished without utilizing support from a therapist. It used positive psychological principles to encourage personal growth and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Aspects of mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and problem-solving therapy were used to create the platform's evidence-based exercises. 

These exercises were included in modules that focused on setting goals, positive emotions and relationships, mindfulness, optimistic thinking, and mastering life. 


The adherence and attrition rate of participants demonstrated that most participants finished at least some of the lessons and assessments. Based on the follow-up assessment record, researchers found that the intervention group experienced the following:

  • Improved well-being at the two-month follow-up
  • A significant decline in symptoms of depression and anxiety at the follow-up 
  • Significant improvement in their self-reported health and vitality
  • Sustained improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety at follow-up

In Summary

Researchers in the Netherlands recruited almost 300 people for a study evaluating the impact of a self-help program designed to improve well-being. At the end of the intervention period, most participants experienced significant improvements in their well-being and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. With several virtual therapy platforms available, one-on-one internet-based therapy may be a favorable future option for improving stress, health, and overall mental fitness.

Mental Fitness Strategies

Mental fitness centers on four components that may impact a person's well-being, including emotional, social, financial, and physical health. Your well-being can be defined as a subjective measure of how you perceive the positive aspects of your life. If any of these components are impacted by adverse events, illness, or challenges, your overall well-being may be affected.

In looking at a person's well-being to understand psychological conditions, one may see a connection between mental fitness and health. However, the two concepts can play different roles in discussing how an individual fares overall. 

Mental Fitness Vs. Mental Health

Before discussing the different strategies you can use to strengthen your mental fitness, understanding how it differs can be beneficial. While they may be used interchangeably, each term has a different focus. 

Mental Health 

Mental health is often used to describe overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being. In some cases, it might include the absence or existence of illness, distressing symptoms, or life experiences. It can also be associated with one’s self-esteem or identity. It varies from person to person and can be affected by different life circumstances. Generally, this term describes your current state. 

Mental Fitness 

Mental fitness focuses on building resilience to stress and growing strength to impact your overall functioning and well-being positively. It involves the actions you take and the environment you create. 

One study involving first-generation college students examined the impact of utilizing an online training platform. Those who participated in the intervention experienced increased psychological resilience and stress hardiness. The intervention group had improved symptoms on questions measuring stress and anxiety compared to the control group. 

Supporters may feel that the perspective of "mental health" does not promote positive health practices that build reservoirs of resilience and vitality. However, both can be favorable terms used when discussing healthy coping mechanisms. Mental health is a state of being, whereas mental fitness can be an action or ongoing effort to keep your mind healthy.

Are You Ready To Boost Your Mental Fitness?

Mental Fitness Exercises 

Strengthening your mental fitness may take practice and commitment. However, it can improve your psychological health over time and may be accomplished by making small changes to your daily routine. In many cases, we may operate on existing patterns that reinforce well-worn pathways within our brain. This type of automatic thinking may work against you. Because of this, it may be important to be open to changing certain behaviors. 

Below are a few steps you can take for improvement.  

Release Your Endorphins

Endorphins are "feel-good" chemicals naturally occurring in your brain and body. They are often associated with the happiness or energy felt after exercising, and can help you relieve stress. There are many ways to release endorphins, like eating chocolate, listening to music, having sex, laughing, getting a massage, and exercise. 

Practice Mindfulness

Many proponents of mental fitness encourage mindfulness as a part of the therapy process. Research has shown that mind-based exercises can strengthen your neural pathways and directly impact your cognitive and emotional health. Neural pathways are a chain of connected neurons in the brain that send signals to other parts of the brain. Strengthening certain pathways may lead to increased mental fitness and wellbeing. Mindfulness may allow you to increase your self-awareness, focus on the present moment, and accept and release worrying thoughts. 

To try mindfulness at home, mindfully finish daily tasks while you finish your routine. While doing routine tasks like the dishes, focus on the sound and sensation of the running water. On your next walk, leave your earbuds at home and take in the sounds of nature and the sun's warmth. In addition to helping you be mindful and more psychologically fit, this can function as a great relaxation technique. 

Practice Gratitude

The theory behind mental fitness is rooted in positive psychology, which focuses on aspects of well-being that include positive emotions, healthy relationships, accomplishments, and engagement. Practicing gratitude may shift your mindset to focus on the positive aspects of life and, in doing so, give you more confidence. 

To get started, spend a few minutes a day writing down areas of your life that you're thankful for. In some cases, our brains carry thoughts about our lives that may be entirely or mostly negative. Try to use your daily period of gratitude to push these thoughts away and focus on the parts of life you appreciate most. This isn’t limited to friends or material things you have in your life. Being grateful for one’s self and having self-compassion may also help someone improve. 


Jogging, gardening, and dancing can reduce anxiety and depression, and mindfulness-based activities like yoga are not only a physical workout, but a mind workout as well. You do not necessarily need to exercise seven days a week to enjoy maximum benefits, as research shows that three to five sessions of physical activity each week is ideal. These sessions could be five to ten minutes in length or longer. 

Exercise can also reduce blood pressure, particularly in individuals with hypertension. This can be beneficial for your physical and your mental health, as those with high blood pressure often experience symptoms of anxiety and other mental health conditions. In addition to its ability to affect blood pressure, physical exercise can also help create neural pathways by improving neuroplasticity.

Complete Brain and Memory Exercises

In addition to exercising your body, you can give your mind a workout by doing brain and memory exercises. These don’t have to be restricted to a particular type of exercise either: the University of Connecticut recommends a number of ways to challenge your brain and improve memory, including learning a new language, trying “brain teasers,” or learning to play an instrument.

Talk To A Professional

Online guides, videos, and apps may be invaluable resources for someone seeking to increase how physically fit they are. However, a personal trainer offers customized training schedules and one-on-one support for people looking to take it a step further. The same can hold for mental fitness. The human brain is capable of growth and development at all ages. However, it can be critical to receive attentive care. If you are interested in developing strategies to become more fit, consider making an appointment with a therapist specializing in positive psychology. 

As shown by the internet-based research study presented above, online programs emphasizing mental fitness can effectively manage symptoms of conditions and build resilience through positive behavioral transformation. In modern psychology, these tools can often be used through online therapy platforms offering one-on-one treatment with licensed counselors. 

You may struggle to make an appointment with a therapist in-person due to travel limitations, personal obstacles, or time. Online therapy can give you more control over your schedule by removing or limiting these barriers. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Education and Learning looked at the effectiveness of online positive psychology interventions in the psychological well-being of college students. The study's results revealed that the students' well-being was significantly improved after participating in treatment sessions. 

If you are considering online therapy due to personal preference or cannot attend in-person sessions, consider reaching out for support. Licensed therapists through a platform like BetterHelp are available, and you can be matched with a provider that meets your specific preferences and goals for your wellness.


Mental fitness can be beneficial for those looking to decrease symptoms of anxiety or depression. You may find improvements in your mental health through mind activities, therapeutic support, exercise, and other techniques. If you're seeking further guidance, consider reaching out to a therapist to learn how therapy or exercises might benefit you. 

Seeking To Improve Your Mental Health?

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