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Mind Body Connection: Fitness is More Than Physical

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

mind body connection

There is more to fitness than just the physical changes that occur. The mind-body connection is a huge aspect of fitness that often goes overlooked.

Women often turn to exercise in order to lose weight or get a toned, strong body.

But, exercise also plays a big role in improving mental health.

The past year has been a trying time for people across the world.

With lockdowns keeping many moms and their families isolated and unable to participate in normal activities, the importance of mental and emotional health has never been clearer.

Exercise is an amazing outlet that allows women to strengthen both their bodies and their minds at the same time.

Physical activity is truly one of the best treatments out there when it comes to decreasing stress and empowering the mind.

The endorphins released during exercise improve anxiety and can even help with pain relief.

The benefits of exercise not only include improved physical fitness, but also mental and emotional health.

Let's dig deeper into the mind-body connection.

The path to weight loss is an intense journey. The physical demands are well known, but what about emotional changes during weight loss?

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The Ultimate Exercises For Mind Body Connection

When choosing a type of exercise, it needs to be something that you enjoy.

Exercise comes in all forms, so pick something that you look forward to doing on a regular basis.

This can be a group exercise class at a gym, a yoga session in your living room, or even weight training.

Yoga

Yoga is one of the top exercises for enhancing the mind-body connection.

A lot of women don’t think that they can do yoga because all they see are countless social media posts of athletes tying themselves up in knots in complicated poses.

However, the best way to begin a yoga program is to start with simple poses that allow you to focus on your breathing and become aware of how your body moves through each pose.

Outdoor Activities

Outdoor exercise is another great option to get your heart pumping and also be able to enjoy nature at the same time.

Outdoor activities are an excellent way to improve overall well-being.

For example, studies have found that outdoor settings are more restorative.

On top of that, studies have shown that people who combine outdoor with indoor physical activity report more positive emotions and well-being associated with exercise, and their connectedness to nature is a significant predictor of well-being.

Some amazing outdoor activities that have been found to aid in stress reduction include:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Paddleboarding

Get the whole family active with this backyard workout!

 

Mindful Exercise

Rhythmic movement and mindful exercise are basically combinations of mediation with aerobic physical activity.

This combination of anxiety-reducing techniques works to give you a higher level of stress relief.

Any workout with repetitive motion is considered rhythmic exercise.

This includes things like running, walking, swimming, and even dancing.

While simply engaging in rhythmic exercise will help you relieve stress, if you add a mindfulness component on top, you’ll find even more of a stress relief benefit.

This means you can choose any type of exercise you like.

However, instead of zoning out and listening to music or watching TV while running on a treadmill, actively engage in how your body feels during the workout.

Turn off your thoughts and worries and pay attention to your breathing and how your muscles feel as they contract throughout the exercise.

For example, if you go out for a run, leave the headphones at home.

Instead, focus on the rhythm of your breathing as you move.

Pay attention to how your feet strike the ground and your arms brush by your sides.

Notice how the wind and sun feel across your face.

If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement.

This will be both relaxing and regenerating at the same time.

Dynamic and Static Stretching

Stretching is not only a great way to enhance flexibility and range of motion, but it can also help engage the mind-body connection.

Plus, all you need is a comfortable pair of clothes and a small area of space.

You can perform dynamic and static stretches when you first wake up in the morning to help prepare you for the day ahead.

Or you can use stretching as a nice way to decompress and relax before bedtime.

Try some of these basic stretches to ease tension, pain, and stress either first thing in the morning, after a busy day, or anywhere in between!

Dynamic Stretches

Inchworm

  • Start on your hands and feet with your hips in the air in an inverted V position.
  • Then walk your feet as far forward as possible while keeping your legs straight.
  • Then, walk your hands out, extending your body into a plank position.
  • Then raise your hips up again into an inverted V.
  • Continue this pattern of walking forward and repeat 5 times.

Back and Chest Rotations

  • Start down on all fours with your knees below your hips and wrists below your shoulders.
  • Place your left fingertips behind your left ear.
  • Rotate your upper body to the left, so that your left elbow points up to the ceiling.
  • Then twist your torso back to the starting position.
  • Continue for 8 reps on the left, then switch sides and repeat on the right.

Arm Circles 

  • Hold your arms out to the sides at shoulder height.
  • Make small circles forward for 10 reps, then backward for 10 reps.
  • Repeat with larger circles. 

Shoulder Shrugs 

  • Bring your shoulder up towards your ears and rotate forward and back around.
  • Repeat for 10 reps, then repeat in the reverse direction.

Static Stretches

Core Stretch

  • Lie on your stomach and press up while keeping your legs on the floor.
  • You should feel this stretch in your abs and hip flexors as you lean back.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Glutes Stretch

  • Sit on the floor.
  • Bend your left leg while keeping your right foot flat on the floor.
  • Cross your left leg over your right thigh.
  • Hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch sides.
  • You can pull your legs in for a deeper stretch.

Arm/Shoulder Stretch

  • Stretch your right arm across your body while pulling into your body with your left arm.
  • Hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Here are 10 stretches that you should be doing every day!

 

Meditation

Living a healthy lifestyle is not just about being physically fit, but also about your cognitive and emotional health.

Finding the mind-body connection will help you feel healthier overall, and to live a high quality of life.

Increased stress can also alter hormone levels and increase cortisol.

This catabolic hormone leads to muscle breakdown along with increased appetite and weight gain.

As you can see, stress plays a major role in our overall health and well-being.

Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce stress that are simple and don’t require anything more than an open mind.

One of these methods is meditation.

Meditation, or even just sitting in a quiet room for a few minutes, may help you deal with stress.

Mindful meditation allows you to become more aware of yourself and your surroundings and really be present in the moment.

After a long day of work and family responsibilities, it can be extremely therapeutic to take just five to ten minutes for yourself to engage in meditation.

Research has shown that individuals who participate in mindful meditation have decreased levels of stress and an overall improved outlook on life.

So this is definitely something to consider if you find yourself dealing with high levels of stress.

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How to Get Started with Meditation

There are a number of different styles of meditation.

One of the easiest things to do is to start out with simple breathing techniques.

  • Find a quiet room where you can be comfortable and there are no distractions.
  • Sit still and begin to focus on your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale.
  • Take note of where you feel your breath and really stay in tune with your body.
  • Deeply inhale as you expand your chest and stomach, and then slowly exhale, really lengthening out the breath.
  • Try doing this for just five minutes to start and you will see how quickly this can calm your mind.

You can also find some great apps that you can download right to your phone.

These programs include music, peaceful sounds, and cues to help you meditate and get in tune with your body.

Recent research shows that these apps have a positive impact on mental health.

A 2018 study found that mindfulness app users showed significant improvements in stress-related issues such as depressive symptoms, resilience, and mindfulness.

Plus, those who continued to use the apps frequently were more likely to maintain improvements in mental health.

And the benefits of meditation go beyond just improvements in your stress levels.

Mindful meditation can even improve chronic health issues associated with stress.

Meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to create small, yet beneficial, decreases in blood pressure.

In addition, regular meditation may also play a role in a non-pharmacologic approach to helping relieve chronic pain.

So there are numerous health reasons to add meditation into your exercise routine.

While it may not seem like the “workouts” you are accustomed to, exercising your mind is just as important as exercising your body.

Connect Your Mind and Body Through Exercise

Living a healthy lifestyle is not just about being physically fit, but also about your cognitive and emotional health. 

Stress can take over our lives and be detrimental to our health in so many ways, even if we aren’t even aware of it!

It is a complex issue and one that we all face on a day-to-day basis. 

Stress can lead to fatigue and disinterest in activities.

If you feel completely overwhelmed with your day-to-day living, it can be hard to focus on your own health and fitness.

This leads to poor eating habits, exercising less, and becoming more distant from your friends and family.

By using exercise to become more in tune with your mind and body, you can start on the path to improving not just your physical health, but also your mental health.

This mind-body connection is one of the most important parts of fitness that should not be overlooked.

Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on the mind-body connection.

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