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How Mindfulness Supercharges Exercise for Mental Wellness

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Combining physical activity with mindfulness significantly improves well-being and mental health, according to a study by the University of Bath and the Medito Foundation. This approach helps overcome exercise challenges and has led to the development of mindfulness audio courses to support exercise habits. Credit: SciTechDaily.com

For people looking to start 2024 with a new routine to feel fitter and happier, a new study from the University of Bath suggests that combining mindfulness with exercise could be your key to success.

A study, published in the academic journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, suggests that life changes which combine both physical activity and mindfulness are most effective at lifting mood and improving health and wellbeing.

Both physical activity and mindfulness practice have well-established psychological benefits. However, by reviewing existing research studies, this is one of the first to show how the positive effects can be increased when the two are combined.

Its findings suggest that mindfulness can help to unlock exercise by helping to motivate people to start in the first place, whilst overcoming minor pain, discomfort or feelings of failure when exercising gets hard.

Analysis of existing research found mindfulness to be highly effective at reducing worry, stress, anxiety, and helping people to live healthier, happier lives. The benefits for mental and physical health from mindfulness were found in people with and without health issues.

The study was conducted by psychologist Masha Remskar, an expert in behavior change, mindfulness, and exercise based at the University of Bath, with support from the Medito Foundation – a mindfulness non-profit with a mission to build a more mindful world.

Through its work, Medito has developed a mindfulness meditation app – a free alternative to paid-for services such as Headspace and Calm. It is collaborating with Bath to help improve people’s mental well-being and also to help them get more active.

Based on the research findings, the team has created and released the first of two mindfulness audio courses aiming to help people get into the habit of exercise. Later in 2024, they will release a second guide, focused on sustaining their exercise habit.

Masha Remskar from the University’s Department of Health explained: “Starting 2024 with a resolution to exercise more can have really positive physical and mental health benefits. But we know that starting out can be tough and that it can also be hard to stick with it over time.

“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.

“This may be because becoming more mindful prompts us to think differently about our lifestyle and makes us more accepting and less judgemental of our own shortcomings, which can help to build healthy habits.

“There is a huge potential to use mindfulness to unlock the positive benefits exercise can bring.”

Steven Yorke, co-founder at Medito added: “Mindfulness mobile apps are a great way to boost our mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, all too often companies put up paywalls, making the benefits of mindfulness inaccessible to some.

“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.

“This collaboration with the University of Bath has been a great way to expand the range of mindfulness meditations we can offer, and it feels great to be at the cutting edge of mindfulness science while we do this.”

Building on this work, the team is about to start conducting a larger trial to determine the effectiveness and optimal intervention moments for combining exercise and mindfulness.

Reference: “Effects of combining physical activity with mindfulness on mental health and wellbeing: Systematic review of complex interventions” by Masha Remskar, Max J. Western, Emma L. Osborne, Olivia M. Maynard and Ben Ainsworth, 20 December 2023, Mental Health and Physical Activity.
DOI: 10.1016/j.mhpa.2023.100575

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