When it comes to workout motivation, research shows setting goals, establishing financial incentives and engaging in friendly competition could increase the likelihood you’ll stick with a workout program. Practicing mindfulness could also help, according to a 2018 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
THE STUDY DETAILS
Researchers followed 66 participants who were divided into three groups: The exercise group attended one 2 1/2-hour session per week to learn about exercise techniques and behavior change and participate in group fitness activities. The mindfulness group engaged in a mindful movement practice and learned breathing exercises for the same amount of time. The control group did neither intervention. Both intervention groups were encouraged to continue their assigned practices at home for at least 20 minutes per day.
At the end of eight weeks, researchers found those who practiced mindfulness were more likely to be active and engaged in physical activity for longer periods of time than the control group.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness is the practice of shutting out distractions and focusing on the present moment. In the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study, mindfulness training was based on the program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts which includes guided meditation, breathing exercises and stretching.
While the study wasn’t set up to examine the reasons mindfulness impacted physical activity, researcher Jacob Meyer, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, speculates the training might have an influence on decision making.
“It’s possible that practicing meditation, or being more aware of one’s body and one’s decisions, might have led people to make [more] active choices than they otherwise would have [such as] walking home from work instead of driving or taking the bus [or] making sure to set aside enough time to jog in the morning or evening.”
It’s not the first study to explore the connection. Research published in the journal Mindfulness found those who practiced mindfulness had higher motivation to exercise and spent more time engaged in physical activity than those who did not consider themselves mindful.
Researcher Jean Fournier, PhD, a professor of sport psychology at Paris Nanterre University in France, explains that you engage in automatic behaviors like crashing in front of the television in the evening without giving it much thought. To make changes, you must embrace a state of mindfulness.
MINDFULNESS BREEDS MOTIVATION
“Becoming aware of an automatic behavior is the first step to changing it,” Fournier says. “Mindfulness training can help you recognize and change an unhealthy behavior.”
The reverse is also true. Research published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity found that engaging in aerobic exercises such as running or swimming helped participants be more mindful, leading to improvements in their mental health.
Meyer believes research on the connection between mindfulness and exercise motivation could help those who need more than a new pair of sneakers to get them to engage in regular physical activity.
“It’s possible that there are many ways to improving one’s health through exercise,” he says. “If you’ve tried working out at a gym in the past and found that to not be exactly what you needed, it might be worth considering other approaches for helping get an exercise routine started or keeping one going, such as mindfulness.”
If you’re more comfortable with running marathons than practicing mindfulness, Fournier suggests using mobile apps or taking classes to learn mindfulness techniques that could help motivate you to get active.
“Regardless of [your] goals, taking a deep breath and being aware of how you feel and what you’re doing can be useful,” adds Meyer.