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As a health and wellness professional, you’ve touted the benefits of exercise. Exercising the body improves muscle tone, cardiovascular health and the immune system, to name a few. And working out also helps the brain by reducing stress levels. Now a new study on mindfulness indicates that training the mind is good for the body.

Did you catch that? Training the MIND benefits the BODY.

So, in an interesting way, this is sort of the reverse. And even though meditation, martial arts and advanced yoga practitioners (and others) won’t find this surprising, it is affirming. And it’s an aspect of the mind-body connection that typical athletic training may largely be overlooking.

The study in a nutshell

Scientists with the department of psychiatry and the Center for Mindfulness at the University of California, San Diego conducted the study. Their subjects were the top riders for the U.S. Men’s National BMX team. The purpose was to determine if mindfulness training could help the athletes cope better with the demands and stress of competition.

The athletes underwent induced (and controlled) physical stress (usually by means of making breathing more difficult) while having their brains scanned before and after the mindfulness training. What the results of the study showed was that after learning “body awareness” techniques, the athletes displayed less anxiety even when they knew a stressful event was about to happen. In other words, they recognized the impending physical stress but didn’t react with fear or panic – which differed from the pre-training brain scans.

The conclusion seems to be that mindfulness training CAN help athletes to cope with stress. It’s not clear if actual athletic performance is improved too; the study didn’t go that far.

My take

Hopefully more research in this area will follow. And it would be interesting to see how mindfulness techniques could help not just elite athletes, but all of us.

  • What if adding mindfulness training to a fitness center’s services would help newcomers feel more comfortable in a health club setting?
  • What if mindfulness training could ease the minor anxiety that bubbles up before a 10K race or even a personal training session?
  • What if that weekend warrior who always backs off just short of the goal could use body awareness techniques to learn how to be comfortable with the discomfort of that extra physical effort?