Combining mindfulness with exercise could be the key to managing stress during a potentially turbulent 2024, a new review argues.
People who exercise and practice mindfulness meditation together tend to have less worry, stress, anxiety and depression than those who only engage in either activity, according to results from 35 studies involving more than 2,200 people.
Mindfulness meditation — in which people focus on being in the moment — can help people better embrace exercise by providing them motivation and helping them look past the temporary discomfort that comes with working out, said lead researcher Masha Remskar, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Bath in England.
“Mindfulness is an approach that can help us ‘train up’ the psychological strengths we need to exercise and be more in tune with our bodies, as well as make exercising more interesting and help us recognize its benefits,” Remskar said in a university news release.
“This may be because becoming more mindful prompts us to think differently about our lifestyle, [and] makes us more accepting and less judgmental of our own shortcomings, which can help to build healthy habits,” she added. “There is a huge potential to use mindfulness to unlock the positive benefits exercise can bring.”
Exercise and mindfulness have been linked separately to improved mental health, but this is one of the first major reviews to show how benefits might be increased when the two are combined, the researchers said.
For the evidence review, Remskar and her colleagues scoured research journals for prior studies that combined physical activity and mindfulness meditation as a means of improving well-being.
The combination effectively reduced depression, anxiety and stress in participants compared with control groups who did neither meditation or exercise, and also showed promise compared to groups asked to solely work out or meditate, the review found.
Based on the results, Remskar’s team has worked with the non-profit Medito Foundation to create a free mindfulness audio course aimed at helping people get into the habit of exercise.
Later this year, they plan to release a second guide focused on sustaining an exercise habit.
“Mindfulness mobile apps are a great way to boost our mental well-being,” said Steven Yorke, co-founder of Medito.
“Unfortunately, all too often companies put up paywalls, making the benefits of mindfulness inaccessible to some,” Yorke noted. “At Medito, we believe that meditation and mindfulness should be available free of charge, to anyone, forever. This is why our mindfulness app, Medito, is and always will be free.”
The researchers also are planning their own large clinical trial to further explore the combination of mindfulness and exercise.
The new review was published recently in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.
The Cleveland Clinic has more about mindfulness.
SOURCE: University of Bath, news release, Jan. 2, 2024
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