Improve Emotion Regulation with Exercise and Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When we engage in mindful practices, we can bring greater awareness, clarity, and equanimity to our day to day experiences. This leads to greater balance and less of the intense swings in mood that can throw us off kilter for days at a time.” – Sean Fargo
Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotions and their regulation. Practitioners demonstrate more positive and less negative emotions and the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, while responding to them in appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders. Aerobic exercise can also improve emotions and their regulation. So, it makes sense to study the relationship between exercise and mindfulness in effecting emotion regulation.
In today’s Research News article “How Does Exercise Improve Implicit Emotion Regulation Ability: Preliminary Evidence of Mind-Body Exercise Intervention Combined With Aerobic Jogging and Mindfulness-Based Yoga.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6718717/), Zhang and colleagues recruited healthy female postgraduate students who did not have meditation experience and who did not engage in exercise. They were randomly assigned to a wait-list control condition or to engage in exercise 3 times per week over 8 weeks. The exercise alternated between jogging for 40 minutes and yoga practice for 60 minutes. The yoga practice consisted of postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. They were measured before and after the intervention for emotion regulation, negative emotions, aerobic fitness, and mindfulness.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group, the aerobic exercise and yoga group had significant increases in emotion regulation, aerobic fitness, and mindfulness and decreases in negative emotions. They also found that increases in aerobic fitness were associated with increases in emotion regulation. But this association was only significant with participants who had high or moderate increases in their levels of mindfulness. At low levels of improvements in mindfulness there was no significant relationship between aerobic fitness and emotion regulation.
These findings are interesting and suggest that aerobic exercise and yoga improves the individual’s ability to regulate their emotions. But mindfulness is required for aerobic exercise to be effective. The increases in mindfulness would be expected as the exercise intervention contained yoga and meditation components. Aerobic exercise is known to improve mood. It is new to show that it also improves emotion regulation. Perhaps that’s the reason for the improvements in mood. But in order for the emotion regulation to be improved by exercise, it must be accompanied by improvements in mindfulness. This suggests that the ability to pay attention in the present moment nonjudgmentally to one’s emotions is required for the exercise to affect the ability to regulate the emotions. Here mindfulness plays a permissive role allowing the exercise to have its effect on the participants ability to regulate their emotions.
So, Improve Emotion Regulation with Exercise and Mindfulness.
“By acting mindfully, people are not only aware of their own feelings but become able to distance from it, avoiding feeling overpowered and acting out.” – Joan Swart
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Zhang, Y., Fu, R., Sun, L., Gong, Y., & Tang, D. (2019). How Does Exercise Improve Implicit Emotion Regulation Ability: Preliminary Evidence of Mind-Body Exercise Intervention Combined With Aerobic Jogging and Mindfulness-Based Yoga. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1888. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01888
Purpose: The primary aim of the present study is to examine the effect of 8-week mind-body exercise intervention combining aerobic jogging and mindfulness-based yoga on implicit emotion regulation ability. The secondary aim is to explore the specific potential pathways by which the mind-body exercise intervention fosters implicit emotion regulation. This may help us to understand how the key components of exercise intervention contribute to emotional benefits.
Methods: Sixty participants were randomly allocated to one of two parallel groups: (1) the intervention group (n = 29) and (2) the waitlist control group (n = 31). Participants were asked to fill out scales measuring mindfulness and instructed to complete an emotion regulation task to assess implicit emotion regulation ability as well as the PWC 170 Test to evaluate aerobic fitness before and after the intervention.
Results: The results of the two-way repeated ANOVA revealed that 8 weeks of intervention improved implicit emotion regulation, mindfulness, and aerobic fitness levels. Path analysis showed that only improved aerobic fitness mediated the intervention effect on implicit emotion regulation ability, controlling for change in negative affect. Notably, the relationship between the effects on implicit emotion regulation ability and aerobic fitness was moderated by improved mindfulness.
Conclusion: Eight weeks of mind-body exercise intervention improves implicit emotion regulation ability. The aerobic fitness may be an essential pathway which mediates the efficacy on implicit emotion regulation ability. Furthermore, different components, such as aerobic fitness and mindfulness, may interactively contribute to such emotional benefits.
Keywords: mind-body exercise, aerobic jogging, mindfulness-based yoga, implicit emotion regulation ability, aerobic fitness, mindfulness, potential pathway