Improve Enjoyment of Exercise with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Kick your boring treadmill cardio up a notch with mindfulness! Practicing mindfulness while on the treadmill doubles your cardio’s health benefits without any extra work or time.” – Justin Vict
There are clearly established benefits to regular exercise for the health and well-being of the individual. But many people find exercise aversive and as a result do not exercise. In fact, the number of people who exercise regularly has been declining over the last few decades, while at the same time, the understanding of the health benefits of exercise has been increasing. It has been estimated that only about 20% of adults meet minimal criteria of engagement in aerobic activity. Hence, there in order to improve the health of the population, method need to be discovered to help motivate people to exercise.
Mindfulness practices have been shown to heighten the enjoyment of many activities and heighten positive emotional experiences and lower aversive emotional experiences. It is reasonable to expect, then, that training in mindfulness would increase the enjoyment of exercise and reduce the aversion to exercise. This would make it more likely that exercise averse people would begin and sustain an exercise program. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Affective Responses to Treadmill Walking in Individuals with Low Intrinsic Motivation to Exercise.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5841682/ ), Cox and colleagues examined the effects of mindfulness instructions on participants’ feelings while exercising.
They recruited college students between the ages of 18 to 35 years who either engaged in no or moderate physical activity and who had low motivation to exercise. They participated in 3 30-minute sessions. In the first they performed a progressive walking exercise on a treadmill designed to bring their heart rate to 65% of their maximum heart rate for 10 minutes. In the 2nd and 3rd sessions they engaged in identical sessions while in the 3rd they also listened to a recorded mindfulness script. The script was designed to bring attention to the physical experience of walking on a treadmill during the 10-minute target heart rate period. Measurements were taken before during and after the exercise of feelings of pleasure and displeasure and perceived exertion.
They found that when the participants were exercising while listening to a mindfulness script their emotions were significantly more positive and their attention significantly more focused than when simply exercising. Hence, the mindfulness condition resulted in a better exercise experience for individuals who do not enjoy exercise; they had more positive feelings and were more attentive to the exercise. This suggests that mindfulness may be of assistance in motivating exercise averse people to engage in exercise. Future research should explore the long-term effects of mindfulness training on the likelihood of engaging in exercise and sustaining participation.
So, improve enjoyment of exercise with mindfulness.
“Adding a practice of mindfulness to your workouts not only takes the dread out of exercise, but increases your connection to your body and the wisdom it has to offer.” – Sandra Pawula
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Cox, A. E., Roberts, M. A., Cates, H. L., & Mcmahon, A. K. (2018). Mindfulness and Affective Responses to Treadmill Walking in Individuals with Low Intrinsic Motivation to Exercise. International Journal of Exercise Science, 11(5), 609–624.
An aversion to the sensations of physical exertion can deter engagement in physical activity. This is due in part to an associative focus in which individuals are attending to uncomfortable interoceptive cues. The purpose of this study was to test the effect of mindfulness on affective valence, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and enjoyment during treadmill walking. Participants (N=23; Mage=19.26, SD = 1.14) were only included in the study if they engaged in no more than moderate levels of physical activity and reported low levels of intrinsic motivation. They completed three testing sessions including a habituation session to determine the grade needed to achieve 65% of heart rate reserve (HRR); a control condition in which they walked at 65% of HRR for 10 minutes and an experimental condition during which they listened to a mindfulness track that directed them to attend to the physical sensations of their body in a nonjudgmental manner during the 10-minute walk. ANOVA results showed that in the mindfulness condition, affective valence was significantly more positive (p = .02, ηp2 = .22), enjoyment and mindfulness of the body were higher (p < .001, ηp2 = .36 and .40, respectively), attentional focus was more associative (p < .001, ηp2 =.67) and RPE was minimally lower (p = .06, ηp2 =.15). Higher mindfulness of the body was moderately associated with higher enjoyment (p < .05, r =.44) in the mindfulness but not the control condition. Results suggest that mindfulness during exercise is associated with more positive affective responses.