Mindfulness makes your workout more satisfying

The Well section of today’s NY Times contains an article that connects mindfulness and how successful people are at maintaining a physical exercise routine (“How Mindfulness Can Jump-Start Our Exercise Routines,” by G. Reynolds). The emphasis here is on the word ‘routine’ because so many of us take up exercise and then, after a couple of sessions, let it lapse.

Researchers have been looking into this phenomenon for some time, what makes some people stick to an exercise routine while everyone is stuck to fridge and sofa, and they have learned that “one of the most reliable indicators of whether people will continue to exercise is that they find exercise satisfying.”

Enter mindfulness. Researchers in Holland wondered if being more aware of the exercise might make it more satisfying and more of a habit. They rounded up 400 physically active adults, gave them surveys to fill out, and then looked for any correlations between being mindful during exercise, finding exercise to be satisfying, and the amount of exercise each person got. According to the article, they found little correlation

“between the amount of mindfulness people reported and their exercise habits, leading the scientists to conclude that mindfulness affected exercise mostly indirectly, by altering satisfaction.”

““The message is that mindfulness may amplify satisfaction, because one is satisfied when positive experiences with physical activity become prominent,” says Kalliopi-Eleni Tsafou, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Utrecht University who led the study. “For those experiences to be noticed,” she continued, “one must become aware of them. We would argue that this can be achieved by being mindful.””

There is much, much more research to be done in this area to be sure, but I find it very exciting.  The most common view of mindfulness is that it is something that one can do only by sitting still, but the Buddha also taught walking meditation to his followers, that is, mindfulness of the sensations of walking. The tradition of walking meditation is still actively taught and practiced around the world and I taught a walking meditation class last month at Paideia 2015. If you would like to learn more about walking meditation (or running meditation, or bicycling meditation, or …), just take off your earbuds, turn off the TV, and email me, Alan Shusterman (alan@reed.edu). Our Resources page also has links to get you started on walking meditation. Here’s the one sponsored by Wildmind.org.