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The Benefits of Applying Mindfulness to Exercise

Occasionally we all simply need to zone-out and let our bodies do what they want to do. But, if all of your workouts involve some type of distraction or other, it may be time to add some mindfulness into your workout regimen.

By
Brock Armstrong,
Episode #405
Photo of a man in lotus position ready to workout

I have addressed the idea of mindfulness and its role in fitness before. In the article "Mindfulness as a Fitness Motivator," I mentioned a scientific study on the associations of what is known as Dispositional Mindfulness with cardiovascular health, which concluded: "dispositional mindfulness is positively associated with cardiovascular health, with the associations particularly driven by smoking, body mass index, fasting glucose, and physical activity."

I also dug into a super cool scientific trial that examined the relationship between exercise consistency and mindfulness. According to the authors, “those who were successful at maintaining exercise tended to score higher on measures of mindfulness and acceptance... exercisers having greater mindfulness and acceptance are less reactive; responding with more balanced appraisals to threats to their exercise regimen which in turn promotes increased exercise maintenance.”

Another study of 62 women over six months found that those who applied mindfulness meditation practices to their daily or weekly routine had a much higher level of physical exercise and general movement, and a greater reduction in BMI, than those who didn’t employ mindfulness practices.

What Is Dispositional Mindfulness?

The type of mindfulness that these studies looked at is generally referred to as dispositional mindfulness, and it can be summed up as a keen awareness of our thoughts and feelings in the very moment that they pop into our mind. It can also be defined as a thoughtful attunement to what is going on inside your mind and body. I like to think of it as a calm centeredness that keeps your focus on "medium alert" while still being fully present and in the moment.

I like to think of it as a calm centeredness that keeps your focus on "medium alert" while still being fully present and in the moment.

The processing of emotional and physical sensations in this way can steer (purposefully or subconsciously) our responses and choices, which in turn can actually help us achieve goals like our ideal body weight, body fat percentage, one rep max, sprint distance, or whatever our fitness goal happens to be.

Combining Mindfulness and Exercise

Earlier in 2018, a Psychology in Sport paper addressed the idea that integrating mindfulness practices into daily movement may lead to greater mental health benefits. Participants’ momentary "negative affect" (stress, anxiety, depression) was found to be lower when moving (versus sitting) if they were more mindful than usual when performing that movement.

The researchers also found that students reported being less stressed while they were on their feet and moving—but they kicked that feeling into high gear when they reported also being more mindful.

As we know from previous articles, being more active reduces stress and anxiety, but being more mindful amplifies this effect.

The researchers stated that “It can be difficult to ask people to spend a lot of time doing moderate or vigorous activity by going to the gym or out for a run, especially if they feel stressed.” But what if they don’t need to change their everyday behavior, and can instead focus on changing their state of mind? By becoming more mindful, we can probably see this beneficial effect without having to do a hard HIIT Session or crush a CrossFit WOD by just being more mindful while we simply move around.

As we know from previous articles, being more active will reduce stress and anxiety but being more mindful amplifies this effect.

Brain Training

Brain training in sports is all over the map these days, but one of the more promising versions of this new fad is anchored in mindfulness. In fact, there is a new sports-specific form of mindfulness training called mPEAK (Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness, and Knowledge). mPEAK is based on techniques like meditation and yoga, but with a larger emphasis on facing sports-specific challenges, like maintaining concentration during a long or difficult event, or overcoming a character trait, such as perfectionism.

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