In recent years, the number of people seeking screenings for their mental health increased by almost 500%. New generations are growing up and prioritizing their mental state more than their predecessors, with a new host of stressors and the pandemic spurring this change but also because of increased awareness and focus being placed on the mind by healthcare professionals. So, what is being learned about mental health? How can it be improved? Dr. Stephen Newhart, the owner of Vigor Active, a new gym concept in Fort Worth, sheds some light on the mysteries of the mind and how to unlock a higher self.
"Too often, people are not connecting their mental health with their overall well-being," says Newhart. "They go hand in hand."
Since establishing his gym, Newhart has seen his clients benefit from exercise and wellness routines that have vastly improved their overall mental health, reduced depression and anxiety, improved sleep, and more. And his perspective is backed up by science. Exercise burns calories, helping a person avoid chronic illness and medications, a predominant factor in depression as people age. It also improves motivation, leading to more success.
"Exercise is a powerful tool for mental health," he affirms. "Exercise gives the brain the ability to work as one, in harmony with the body, by increasing blood flow to the multiple lobes of the brain and increasing their network connections." Increased blood flow to the brain allows it to be more creative in problem-solving and generalized thought; this all culminates in a positive life. Exercise also releases hormones that create a feeling of happiness. "We have observed this in our members," says Newhart. "And in anyone who regularly participates in exercises."
Newhart explains that a recent study compared three groups of people suffering from depression. Professionals found that exercise alone was the optimal treatment over prescription medication or exercise with prescription medication. "Exercise reversed depression in that study group."
The brain is the headquarters for all movement. When the brain regularly moves the body, the cerebral cortex increases its ability to perform complex tasks, improving the brain’s efficacy and efficiency in completing thoughts and movements. In short, the brain is like a muscle that has to be used to properly work and avoid atrophy. And rhythmic activities are also soothing to people, another reason why humans are drawn to music. The body and the brain are driven by frequency, and the cadence of exercise stabilizes the brain’s frequencies and coherence patterns.
Personally, Newhart sees the science of exercise working miracles on his gym patrons every day, but he also sees it working in himself. "I am an entrepreneur and perform multiple different tasks daily," he says. "these tasks revolve around my fitness center, fundraising for my other company, and teaching my college courses." Newhart completes all this while still finding time for his wife and children. "I know this would not be possible without all types of regular exercise, including cardiovascular endurance training, resistance training, and plyometric training," he says. "I feel more accomplished, self-satisfied, and generally joyful while regularly exercising."
And Newhart feels lucky that he's always prioritized exercise, something his parents instilled in him from a young age.
"My parents were active in gyms when I was young, and sports were always a part of my life," he says. "Even now, I work out at another fitness club outside of Vigor, to increase fitness variety." Newhart credits exercise with allowing him to be his best for his family and business. Without it, he says he would focus negative energy on poor food choices, alcohol, and other bad habits that are harmful long term.
And when you decide to commit to a healthier lifestyle, the gym becomes a great place to meet kindred spirits experiencing happiness from hormone release; it is a caring environment, and a positive gym provides a community of trust on top of the physical results.
"At Vigor Active, we have members utilizing the club since it opened five years ago," explains Newhart. "We have become a fitness family where we know the member's children, careers, and life's ups and downs." Newhart says the Vigor community will hold you accountable just as often as they build you up. But he sees clients thriving in that environment. His members enjoy working out because of these social interactions, and daily attendance at a gym provides the conversation and support all people need to avoid depression. As we age, socialization improves overall longevity and maintains mental well-being. Newhart encourages all people to invest more in their wellness routines, cautioning against picking the cheapest gyms. "Pick the best option," he urges. "One that cares about your outcomes and who you are."
Once a healthy physical routine is established, a person should also edit their food choices. Foods that lead to chronic disease and obesity raise your dopamine levels at a chemical level. The biggest offenders are sugar, seed oils, and alcohol. Once these foods are ingested, the natural production of dopamine lowers, and feelings of depression sneak in. So 'Sunday scaries' are a legitimate chemical reaction that worsens the more you partake in alcohol and processed foods.
The good news is if someone wants to make a change, there are things they can do to immediately make an impact. Newhart suggests creating an exercise routine. "The rhythmic nature, increased body temperature, utilization of hormones, and usage of energy storage associated with exercise makes it the most effective means of improving all avenues of health." Just 20 minutes of exercise a day is effective at lifting the spirits. Even if a person solely focuses on raising their heart rate, a walk can make all the difference in how they manage their day afterward. Newhart suggests starting with a quick 20-minute walk around your neighborhood and biking or hiking to clear your mind, but each day needs to progress, walking faster or further, to see change mentally and physically. Set obtainable goals (hang photos in the mirror for daily motivation), Do not overtrain initially (don’t overdo it and start slowly), and educate yourself on slow controlled resistance training (the best way to continue to burn calories over time).
Newhart says people should also stay offline and focus on an in-person community. Social media is scientifically proven to cause depression, as shown by many studies. "We were not meant to see into the lives of everyone on the planet," says Newhart. "Especially when they are complete strangers."
"People to see what they do not have, and it causes them to falsely think they want what others have."
This phenomenon creates an unhealthy environment for people psychologically. Newhart says participating in a live community and nurturing relationships nearby cultivates a positive atmosphere of mental well-being instead of constantly comparing, idolizing, or creating false realities.
People should also research mental therapies like neurofeedback as well as traditional psychotherapy. Neurofeedback therapy re-directs subconscious desires and thoughts to create positive mental wellness. It also focuses on positive influences and future planning. And a person can never over-prioritize a good night of rest. "Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!" Encourages Newhart. "Get good sleep; 7-8 hours a day are essential for cell repair and for your mind to rest!"
Optimal health includes avoiding negative relationships too. Newhart explains that people need cheerleaders and support in their lives. Avoid negative conversations and taking on the problems of others, especially when those problems produce fear and anxiety. "The smallest negative comment can become a ripple effect of only negative feelings," cautions Newhart. "Seek positivity in life. Re-frame your intentions and avoid gossip and drama."
"I feel more accomplished, self-satisfied, and generally joyful while regularly exercising."
"We were not meant to see into the lives of everyone on the planet,"
"Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!"
"Seek positivity in life. Re-frame your intentions and avoid gossip and drama."