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Meditation and Exercise – Great alone but better together

Meditation and Exercise – Great alone but better together

Are you living a fast and hectic lifestyle and find yourself with high blood pressure, stress, experiencing anxiety, constant demands and obligations pulling you in different directions, and struggling to maintain focus? Great news – just 20 minutes of meditation combined with 30-40 minutes of exercise can reduce anxious feelings and be the first step to building a peaceful and fulfilling life. Athletes, the army, and every-day people are adopting mindfulness meditation practices and exercise to reduce stress and anxiety (Richtel 2019). Even if you aren’t an elite athlete or soldier though, research over the last twenty years says that meditation and exercise is linked to reducing stress and anxiety, reducing depressive episodes, improved cognitive performance, having a positive self-image, and reducing negative thoughts. (Arora Jyoti 2018, Elisa H. Kozasa 2012, Julia C. Basso 2019, Rahil Rojiani 2017, Thomas J. Elkington 2017, Yi-Yuan Tang 2015).

(Julia C. Basso 2019)

Meditation is the practice of purposefully directing one’s mind and attention to being completely present in the moment and focusing solely on one particular sensation, like one’s own breathing (Rahil Rojiani 2017). A 2018 study found that just five minutes of “Om” chanting can produce a significant reduction in blood pressure and heart rate (Arora Jyoti 2018). What’s more, a 2019 study found that after only 8 weeks and just 13 minutes of guided meditation a day, subjects were found to have a reduction in negative moods, reduced stress, and increased capacity to pay attention and remember important information (Julia C. Basso 2019). For those keeping track, that’s a commitment of only 18 minutes a day to receive all the benefits of meditation – perfect for a before bedtime ritual, lunch break on a stressful day, or as soon as you get home from work and need to clear you mind.

While reducing stress is great, meditation has been shown to make you more productive through the day by increasing your ability to maintain and focus your attention. Meditation allows for neural pathways to strengthen and for the mind to focus and process incongruent tasks (Elisa H. Kozasa 2012). An example of an incongruent task would be like saying the color of the following five words and not the actual word: green, black, blue, green, white. Not as easy as it sounds right? In the study, non-meditators showed much more brain activity when attempting this task compared to meditators (Elisa H. Kozasa 2012). This might sound like a good thing for the non-meditators but it’s actually showing that the brain of a non-meditator is having to work much harder to accomplish the same task as the meditator. This indicates that the meditators had better sustained attention and impulse control over their non-meditation counterparts (Elisa H. Kozasa 2012).

Better ability to pay attention, impulse control, and reduced stress? Great, we’re convinced and we’re willing to dedicate 18 minutes of our day to meditate. So what about exercise? I think we all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but how can it help our mental health when paired with meditation? Multiple studies have shown that there is a positive link between exercise and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and preventing diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s (Petra Dolenc 2019). With a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise, psychological health and positive well-being increased by 23-48% compared to those that did not exercise (Thomas J. Elkington 2017). As well as increasing positive psychological well-being, exercise also reduced negative feelings like anxiety, depression, and stress related emotions – much like the benefits of meditation (Thomas J. Elkington 2017). Additionally, many studies have researched the impact of exercise on cognition. These studies found that exercise increases creativity, concentration, attention, and memory (Martin Rasmussen 2013). Further, exercise that involves mental engagement like balance, timing, strategy, or team-based activity give the greatest cognitive benefits, so sign up for that rec league or join one of our group fitness classes (Martin Rasmussen 2013). These positive cognitive effects of exercise have been found to be true for all ages from children, to adults, to seniors (Jennifer L. E