Mindfulness helps exercisers keep their commitment
Thursday, January 18, 2018
It's mid-January. How are doing with your New Year's resolutions?
Perhaps like many people you resolved to exercise more during 2018. Or maybe you no longer make resolutions to avoid disappointment after years of falling short on them. Either way, if you really want to increase your level of physical activity this year without fear of failure, there's encouraging news.
Being able to stick to your exercise program has more to do with observing yourself than pushing yourself, according to some interesting research. In fact, the simple act of being present to your thoughts and feelings in each moment — commonly referred to as mindfulness — may be the key to remaining faithful to your exercise goals whether they come in the form of a resolution or not.
Mindfulness practice has already been shown to help dieters enjoy healthier eating habits and make wiser food choices. Now, a study of French university students has revealed the role mindfulness can play in motivating people to follow through on their intentions to exercise.
Researchers investigated the interplay between participants' self-reported mindfulness practice, their intrinsic motivation to exercise and their actual physical activity levels.
Findings confirmed that the more mindful these students were in everyday life, the more likely they were to turn their desire to exercise into action. Those who didn't practice mindfulness exercised less — whether they were intrinsic motivated or not made no difference in their activity levels.
"These findings may have implications for interventionists seeking to promote increased physical activity with mindfulness-based techniques," conclude the researchers in the study abstract. "In fact, it seems that increasing mindfulness skills of individuals could improve their intrinsic motivation to exercise and, thus, physical activity."
For mindfulness to bring you to the gym more regularly, your reasons for exercise must stem from inner desire versus external motivators like living up to someone else's expectations or a reacting to a negative comments about your weight. If there's doubt here, you may want to examine the source of your motivation as well as explore alternative forms of exercise to discover what ignites your passion.
Once you've concluded that your interest in being more physically active comes from within, the next step is to add mindfulness practice to your daily routine. If you already have a jam-packed schedule, don't worry. Once you get the hang of it, you can practice mindfulness as you do other tasks like driving, walking and household chores.
One of the simplest ways to enter a mindful state is by placing your attention on your breathing. Inevitably, your mind will begin to stray to myriad thoughts, giving you the opportunity to observe them while practicing equanimity. Along with following each breath, you can bring your awareness to sensations in your body without engaging in judgment. This practice is commonly found in hatha yoga.
Those who are completely new to mindfulness or meditation will benefit from dedicating time to learning how to develop a regular practice. Along with meditation courses, reputable online resources such as mindful.org offer inspiring articles with tips and tools for beginning or renewing your practice.
Now, if your reason for wanting to get fit stems from an external factor like a doctor's order, can mindfulness help? While the research mentioned above specifies that the motivation must be intrinsic, mindfulness is a positive tool for developing consciousness in all aspects of life from human relations and managing emotions to study habits and diet. In other words, it surely can't hurt.
Mindfulness practice will lead you to greater awareness, which is likely to affect your exercise habits — in due time.
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