Did you know the average person gets only 17 minutes of exercise a day? That’s an astonishing figure considering how many hours there are in a day. Combine that with the prevalence of office jobs that require us to only take a few steps up and down the hall all day and the measure is clear – we’re spending too much time with our glutes glued to a chair and too little time activating them.
Despite all that sitting, many people still have trouble sticking to a regular exercise routine, even though they’re aware of the health benefits. If asked, dedicated couch potatoes offer up lots of reasons – lack of time, lack of ability, lack of equipment, etc., but ultimately it comes down to the fact that they simply don’t derive satisfaction from moving their body. As human nature suggests, most people tend to do activities that bring pleasure and avoid those that cause pain.
Why Mindfulness Matters For Your Exercise Routine
So why is it that some people experience satisfaction and pleasure when they work out and others dread it? According to a new study carried out by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, it comes down to mindfulness. You’ve probably heard about mindfulness in relation to eating. When you eat mindfully, you focus on the taste, texture, and aroma of what you’re eating and to what your body is telling you. By concentrating on the experience of eating and listening to your own internal cues that tell you when you’re full, you enjoy your food more and are less likely to “mindlessly” overeat.
The same concept can be applied to exercise. Rather than looking at the clock or focusing on when your workout is going to be over, focus the physical sensations, you’re feeling during a workout. Too often people use distraction techniques to avoid feeling sensations like burning muscles, sweating, and fatigue.
With mindfulness, you fix your mind only on the moment, the sensation of your muscles moving, blood coursing through your veins and your breathing. You fully IMMERSE yourself in the experience. According to this new study, people who exercise mindfully, achieve more satisfaction from a workout – and might be less likely to skip it!
How does mindfulness increase workout satisfaction? As one of the researchers in this study pointed out, “mindfulness facilitates the acceptance of things as they occur, thereby making those feelings less threatening.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Applying Mindfulness to Your Workouts
You can apply mindfulness techniques to strength or cardiovascular training. Think about the benefits of using mindfulness when you train with weights or other forms of resistance. When you focus on the muscle you’re working and on your breathing, you’ll use better form and less momentum. The bonus is you’ll potentially make greater gains.
When you do a cardiovascular workout, whether it be HIIT training or moderate-intensity cardio, enjoy the sensation of your muscles moving and your heart pumping – embrace the burn and accept it rather than trying to will it away. Do at least one yoga workout a week. Yoga is an ideal way to cultivate mindfulness, a skill you can incorporate it into every aspect of your life.
Be Mindful AND Know Why You’re Working Out
Another reason people find it hard to stick with exercise is they don’t clearly define why they’re doing it. It’s not enough to exercise because “it’s healthy” or because you want to lose weight. Dig a little deeper and find out what motivates you at a deeper level. For example, “I need to exercise to stay healthy so I’ll be around to see my granddaughter graduate from college” is more motivating than the vague, ill-defined goal of staying healthy.
Ask yourself WHY you want to be fit and healthy and remind yourself of that each day. Post a photo of the granddaughter you want to see grow up in a prominent place to remind yourself of why health is so important to you. Once you know why you’re doing something at a deeper, emotional level, you’re more likely to make exercise a priority.
Before a workout, especially on days when you’re feeling tired or unmotivated, remind yourself about how good exercise makes you feel once you’re finished. Then ask yourself how many times you’ve done a workout that you regretted after it was done. Unless it was a workout where you sustained an injury, it simply doesn’t happen. When you finish, you feel good about yourself and proud because you did it. Remember, you’re also improving your mood when you exercise.
Finally, don’t let your workouts become too routine. Without variety, even the best workout routine becomes stale over time. That’s when you stop looking forward to working out and find excuses not to do it. With so many types of workouts option, staleness should never be an issue. Try something you don’t ordinarily do like a step, spin or kettlebell workout. Set some new goals and begin working towards them.
The Bottom Line?
Distraction might sound like a good way to make an exercise session less unpleasant but a mindfulness approach may actually be better. Apply the same kind of mindfulness to your workouts that you do to what and how you eat, and make sure you’re clear about why you’re exercising in the first place. Understanding what inspires you at the deepest level will help you stay motivated on these days when you’re short on time or when you’d much rather curl upon the couch than pick up weights.
US News Health. “The Secret to Sticking With Exercise”
The New York Times. “To Jump Start Your Exercise Routine, Be Mindful”
Live Science. “How to Stick to an Exercise Routine” August 16, 2011.
Mindful Eating — Studies Show This Concept Can Help Clients Lose Weight and Better Manage Chronic Disease. Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 15 No. 3 P. 42.
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