Become a Better Athlete with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“athletes perform better when experiencing flow and that mindfulness meditation for athletes can help them experience flow. This is really good news for high-performance coaches and athletes.” – Ertheo
Athletic performance requires the harmony of mind and body. Excellence is in part physical and in part psychological. That is why an entire profession of Sports Psychology has developed. “In sport psychology, competitive athletes are taught psychological strategies to better cope with a number of demanding challenges related to psychological functioning.” They use a number of techniques to enhance performance including mindfulness training. It has been shown to improve attention and concentration and emotion regulation and reduces anxiety and worry and rumination, and the physiological and psychological responses to stress. As a result, mindfulness training has been employed by athletes and even by entire teams to enhance their performance.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Training Enhances Endurance Performance and Executive Functions in Athletes: An Event-Related Potential Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7474752/ ) Nien and colleagues explored the effects of mindfulness training on college athletes. They recruited healthy college athletes who had no experience with mindfulness training and randomly assigned them to either receive mindfulness training or to a wait-list control condition. Mindfulness training consisted of 2 30-minute training sessions per week for 5 weeks and included mindful breathing, mindful meditation, body scanning, mindful yoga, and mindful walking. They were measured before and after the 5-week training period for athletic endurance, cognitive function (Stroop task), and mindfulness. The Stroop Task measures attention, response speed, and behavioral inhibition.
To measure the nervous systems processing of information, the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded and evoked potentials to the stimuli onsets were measured during the Stroop Task. They focused on the N2 response in the evoked potential which is a negative going electrical response in the EEG occurring between a 2.0 to 3.5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The N2 component is thought to reflect attentional monitoring of conflict and inhibitory control.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group, the athletes who received mindfulness training had significant increases in mindfulness, athletic endurance, and attention and behavioral inhibition accuracies on the Stroop cognitive task. They also found that the mindfulness trained athletes had significantly lower N2 responses in the evoked potential.
These are interesting findings but conclusions must be tempered with the knowledge that the comparison condition was passive. This opens the possibility of alternative explanations such as participant expectancy, attention, or bias effects. Nevertheless, the results suggest that mindfulness training improves the athlete’s executive function and endurance. The results of both the Stroop Task and the N2 component of the evoked potential are compatible as each measures the ability to inhibit responses in the face of informational conflict.
The mechanisms by which mindfulness training has these effects was not explored in the present study. But previous research has demonstrated that mindfulness training improves executive function including behavioral inhibition. Additionally, previous research has demonstrated that mindfulness training improves the physiological and psychological responses to stress. These improved responses to stress may well explain the increased athletic endurance observed in the mindfulness training athletes as endurance measures the individual’s ability to maintain function under stress.
So, become a better athlete with mindfulness.
“Focus and attention, body awareness and the ability to immerse yourself in the present moment – these are skills in both high-level athletic performance and mindfulness meditation.” – Dave Charny
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Nien, J. T., Wu, C. H., Yang, K. T., Cho, Y. M., Chu, C. H., Chang, Y. K., & Zhou, C. (2020). Mindfulness Training Enhances Endurance Performance and Executive Functions in Athletes: An Event-Related Potential Study. Neural plasticity, 2020, 8213710. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/8213710
Mindfulness interventions have been linked to improved sport performance and executive functions; however, few studies have explored the effects of mindfulness on sport performance and executive functions simultaneously. This study sought to examine whether a mindfulness training program would affect both the endurance performance and executive functions of athletes. In addition, event-related potentials (ERPs) associated with the Stroop task were assessed to investigate the potential electrophysiological activation associated with the mindfulness training. Applying a quasiexperimental design, forty-six university athletes were recruited and assigned into a five-week mindfulness training program or a waiting list control group. For each participant, the mindfulness level, endurance performance assessed by a graded exercise test, executive functions assessed via Stroop task, and N2 component of ERPs were measured prior to and following the 5-week intervention. After adjusting for the preintervention scores as a covariate, it was found that the postintervention mindfulness level, exhaustion time, and Stroop task accuracy scores, regardless of task condition, of the mindfulness group were higher than those of the control group. The mindfulness group also exhibited a smaller N2 amplitude than the control group. These results suggest that the five-week mindfulness program can enhance the mindfulness level, endurance performance, and multiple cognitive functions, including executive functions, of university athletes. Mindfulness training may also reduce conflict monitoring in neural processes.