Fitness “experts” tell us that sweating it out in the gym several times a week and pushing yourself to work harder and longer are what you must do to become healthy and to be happy with your body. Yet this kind of punishing routine can actually increase your stress, leading to a decline in your health and overall wellness and encouraging you to engage in other unhealthy behaviors, such as mindless snacking or binging on junk food.
More experts now recognize the importance of mind-body fitness, which focuses on both mental and physical health for total wellness. Mind-body fitness emphasizes mindfulness in exercise, diet, and lifestyle in order to create harmony between the mind and the body. Here are a few ways that the principles of mind-body fitness play out in practice:
Cultivate a Love of Movement
A lot of us avoid the gym if we can. Exercise seems like work – because we treat it like work. We “have to” run after work. We “have to” finish that grueling “cardio shred” routine. We “have to” finish those repetitions.
One way to attain greater mind-body fitness is to cultivate a love of movement, forgetting what we “have to” do for exercise. You can do this by making “exercise” a part of your daily routine – such as simple walks, gardening, biking to the market, or swimming in a nearby lake. Instead of forcing yourself to start your exercise routine, you can look forward to a simple walk or an activity with friends.
Set Attainable Goals
Have you been to the gym in January? It’s likely packed with people with New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape and lose weight. Come June, those crowds have thinned.
Many people begin their resolution to get fit by making unrealistic goals for exercise. They plan to go to the gym every day. They vow to be able to run 10 miles after three months. They tell themselves they must be able to bench press their own body weight. “No pain, no gain!”
The problem is that they take on too much, too soon. When they fail to reach these unattainable goals, they feel discouraged and give up. Or they punish themselves with negative self-talk, vowing to work even harder and setting themselves up for more disappointment later.
Mind-body fitness emphasizes setting attainable goals so that you set yourself up for success. When you start with small goals, you easily achieve them and feel encouraged by your progress. Exercise becomes enjoyable, and you feel excited about continuing on your path toward better health.
Choose Mind-Body Exercises
Some exercises are designed to help you build a mind-body connection as you do them. These exercises are almost like meditations, helping you to become more aware of your thoughts and your body as you move. Such exercises include:
- Tai Chi
These exercises teach deliberate movement that focuses on an awareness of the body. These practices also help to release stress and anxiety, regulate mood, and encourage introspection. Therefore, they help to promote physical fitness while also improving mental health.
Practice Intuitive Eating
When you are feeling upset, do you reach for a comforting bowl of ice cream? After you’ve had a long day at work, do you just want to grab a burger and fries from the local drive-thru and veg out in front of the TV?
Much of our diet is fueled by stress and emotional eating. Learning to combat these urges and to listen to our bodies cues so that we eat when we are hungry and eat what our body truly needs is the foundation of intuitive eating. Practicing intuitive eating not only helps you to improve health by eating foods that are full of nutrition, but it also helps you to improve mental health by reducing your dependence on food for emotional comfort.
Relax and Meditate
Stress kills in more ways that one. It leads to unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse and disordered eating, and it also contributes to the imbalance of multiple processes in the body, leading to the development of disease.
Finding ways to relax and reduce stress can, therefore, improve physical as well as mental health. Meditation, focused breathing, and visualization are all useful exercises for reducing stress and relieving anxiety. Meditation can often be combined with exercise, especially mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi.
Making sure that you get enough sleep each night is also an important key to mind-body fitness, as it helps you to relieve tension and gives your body the time it needs to rejuvenate itself each night. Too little sleep can increase stress levels and lead to health problems such as hypertension and hormonal imbalance.
Exercise plays a key role in not only physical health, but also mental health. Mind-body fitness focuses on finding ways that exercise and other lifestyle choices can promote both physical and mental health. Making healthy movement a part of your daily life, setting realistic expectations for yourself, eating healthy foods, and finding ways to reduce stress are all components of a healthy mind-body practice.
Sarah Rexman is the main researcher and writer for bedbugs.org. Her most recent accomplishment includes graduating from Florida State, with a degree in environmental science. Her current focus for the site involves researching bed bug treatment and the bed bug life cycle.
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