Physical exercise is vital for the body and the mind.
Working out is a method of exercising the body into a healthy physical shape, and can also exercise the mind into a healthy mental shape. When jogging around the track, counting reps, or stretching to loosen up the muscles, being mindful of the body’s movement is necessary for successfully completing these regimens. The goal of these workouts may primarily be to strengthen and tone muscles, and it is, too, possible to make strengthening mindfulness part of that goal.
Mindfulness and physical exercise may initially elicit the practice of yoga. The concept of quiet, conscious breathing is only a step to follow to yield physical results like alleviating lower back pain, aiding a detoxifying cleanse, or curing a hangover. Although yoga has been proven as an exercise that improves mental health and mindfulness, any other everyday workout can benefit in improved mindfulness, too.
Physical workouts of any kind are known to release the body’s chemical endorphins. When the physical body is put under stress and experiencing pain, endorphins act to relieve the mental pain that comes with those effects. This release happens during a workout when a second wind is achieved, or when a workout is complete and the body is no longer pushing itself. If you’re anything like this writer, you heavily depend on endorphin releases during workouts because exercising is a challenge and, at times, unenjoyable. When she realizes she is able to push her body further during a run, she (gratefully) acknowledges her rejuvenated mental focus on completing the workout. When she feels happy that she (finally) finishes a workout, she acknowledges the mental pride in the achievement (because running is really difficult and actually doing it is truly a grand success. But I digress…).
Another release the body stimulates through exercise is the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which betters a person’s mood. A Harvard study on aerobic exercise and depression found that along with improved self-esteem, regular exercise contributes, albeit a small amount, to lessening symptoms of depression. The study found that exercise also staves off symptoms of depression longer than antidepressant drugs following its treatment, making for a natural mental health remedy.
The Harvard study references walking as a partial cure for depression symptoms. Though certainly not as intense as CrossFit or Pilates at an expert level, walking is still a beneficial form of exercise; it can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Walking, which demands less stress on the body than an exercise like running, is a great chance to practice active meditation, which combines some type of movement and mindful meditation. Whether walking with or without a purpose, walking meditation can be practiced in a couple easy steps (no pun intended) to achieve a state of mindfulness:
- As you begin walking, focus on your breathing. Keep a count as you inhale in exhale to become conscious of the present moment. If a thought arises in the mind, simply acknowledge it, then return attention to the breath
- Notice the parts of the body move as you walk at a comfortable pace. Feel the bottoms of your feet as they firmly touch and lift off of the ground. Recognize the movement of your legs. Be aware of how your hips move, your arms swing, and your posture. Pay close attention to how your balance is maintained.
These steps lead to mindfulness of the body and mind. Additionally, such active meditation provides the opportunity to become aware of and appreciative of natural surroundings if practiced outdoors.
The ability to reach a state of mindfulness while on the move supports the idea of constantly living a mindful lifestyle. If a habit of at least walking 60 minutes over the span of a week has not been established, it is never too late to make it one! Exercise, including walking, on an intense or moderate level, provides physical and mental mindfulness benefits that prevail long-term.
The beautiful fall days are still on our side weather wise; enjoy the outdoors, if possible, make time for a workout sometime during your day, and be mindful of the body’s physical movement.