Mindfulness and Exercise

"Mindfulness” has been a dominant health and wellness trend over the last couple of years – the word gets thrown around in conversations about everything from eating to shopping. But what does mindfulness really mean, and how does it relate to physical activity?

Psychology Today defines mindfulness as  “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

So, why is it important to have “active, open attention” and to be able to “observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance”? As it turns out, this ability leads to a whole host of other mental health benefits:

•    Fewer depressive symptoms
•    Reduction in stress
•    Better working memory
•    Better focus
•    Less emotional reactivity
•    More cognitive flexibility
•    Greater relationship satisfaction
•    Better fear modulation
•    Greater self-insight

One of the best-known ways to become more mindful is to adopt the practice of mindfulness meditation, which encourages you to concentrate on your breath, body and surroundings for a designated period of time, usually while sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. At 99% Fit we were also excited to learn that there are a few ways you can integrate mindfulness into some common physical activities.  For Dummies has some great, simple ideas for how to make running, swimming, and cycling opportunities not just for improving physical fitness, but mental fitness as well:

•    Running: leave the music at home (a tough one for me, I’ll admit!) and run outside so your senses have more to take in. Pay attention to your breathing, how your body feels, and your surroundings – the temperature, the pavement, the wind on your face. Observe any thoughts that arise calmly and without judgment
•    Swimming: as with running, pay attention to your breathing, your heart rate, your body, etc. Also, observe the sensation of your body moving through the water, and how it feels
    Cycling: Take note of how your body feels on the bike, especially points of contact like your hands and feet. When you start cycling, pay attention to the movement of your legs and the wind against your face. Try not to think too much about where you’re going; think about where you are in the moment. 

Anything that helps exercise enhance mental wellness in addition to physical fitness is obviously positive – but not just for the here and now. These benefits help us in the near term, but are also the building blocks for a long, fruitful, and healthy life.