Optimize Your Exercise with Awareness

Research published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that regular exercise prevents dementia. Unfortunately for baby boomers, federal health surveys indicate that only 18% of the generation is exercising consistently. As we discuss in SAVOR, there are numerous barriers that prevent us from exercising: we don’t have enough time, we’re too tired or we have no place to exercise. But it’s important to remember how well we feel during and after exercising. An interesting observation by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer is that our perception of how much we exercise, though often inaccurate, affects our health. Just as those who eat mindfully feel more nourished, those who exercise with awareness may reap more health benefits.

In her 1997 study of the mind-body connection, Langer asked 84 hotel maids how much they exercised. A third of the women said none and the remaining majority said very little. Their measured fitness levels (BMI, etc.) confirmed these reports until Langer told half of the women that in fact, their work scouring and vacuuming met the Surgeon General’s requirement for thirty minutes of fitness per day.

Then an interesting  thing happened - the informed women began to exhibit healthier fitness levels without changing their routine. In one month, on average, these women dropped 2 pounds and 10 points of systolic blood pressure, making them significantly healthier than the control group who remained uninformed.

From this study, it appears that the more present we are when exercising the more we’ll get out of our work out both physically and mentally. Next time you’re sweating, set down the magazine, turn down the ipad and focus on your breath. Consider each movement. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you. 

Photo Credit: slgckgc

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WOW! What an incredible study. I've always felt like my emotional state can impact my weight for good or bad. What you are reporting on here is obviously a little different, but I pick up on some overlap just in the complex way our body works. Clearly, weight and health are more complicated than "calories in, calories out"!

Absolutely. You bring up a very good point about emotions. This is one reason I love mindful breathing. Whenever I feel overwhelmed with emotion, I take a few, focused breaths. It makes all the difference! - Lilian