Fit and Focused—Mindfulness Matters

29 Jan

Mindfulness CartoonIf you haven’t yet checked out our new magazine, Alpha–The Evolution of Fitness, I’d snatch it up quickly. Don’t miss a single day that could be used to start creating your best life with cutting edge nutrition, fitness, mindset, and sport information!

In our last issue you were introduced to one of our contributing writers with a photo of him sitting upright yet relaxed in a cross-legged position, his supinated palms resting purposefully on his knees, the thumb and forefingers married intently.  The caption humorously poked fun at his Zen-like posture and its usefulness in capturing the attention of beautiful women. Guys, if you read it and gave it a try, we’d like to hear from you–we may be onto a novel way of match-making! If you haven’t assumed the sitting meditation pose, there are far more reasons than the possibility of discovering your true love. How about finding your truest life?

Those of you who know me are aware of my penchant for everything mindfulness-related. My audio courses and teleconferences teach it; my mental edge program (which, by the way, is not just for competitors) utilizes its principles for the development of optimal emotional intelligence; and while you won’t find me popping a squat in the middle of my office floor at The Diet Doc, you will find me screaming at Joe from below his loft, “You better not be eating and typing at the same time!!” I’m not obsessed, but I am excited. I’ve felt the benefits of mindfulness in my own life and I can tell you it has changed my perception of who and how I am, of what is important, and how I relate to others.  I’m happier, I’m more self-accepting, I’m more successful, I’m less negative, and I can more easily roll with the punches. I’ve never felt healthier. But don’t take it from me. I’m just some wacky, single, mid-30’s cat lady (you’ll understand when you read the magazine)! Read on to learn how mindfulness could make the difference in your life too.

Mindfulness meditation, while it has been around for thousands of years, has been garnering tremendous interest among fitness, health, and medical communities of late. Described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher and founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at UMass, as a compassionate, non-judgmental focus on present-moment experience, mindfulness meditation is among the top six most recommended therapies of complementary and alternative medicine. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in 2006 slightly over 9% of Americans engaged in meditation. That same year almost a million children meditated. School districts across the country are now teaching mindfulness to children in the classrooms, and governor Tim Ryan of Ohio has written a book about how mindfulness has changed his life. He is using his knowledge and experience with the practice, as well as the research behind it to develop the curriculums that many school in his state are implementing.

Mindfulness - You Can't Do it WrongIf you believe meditation in its various forms, and mindfulness in general, is just a rather fruity way of achieving some sort of transcendental spacing out, think again. It is being used  by millions to achieve optimal wellness; to cope with anxiety and stress; to manage emotional pain; to decrease the debilitating effects of depression, insomnia, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; and to manage the psychological effects and treatment of disordered eating and substance abuse, just to name a few. The children who practice it are more emotionally aware, concentrate better in class, and exhibit greater resilience in the face of setbacks. Spacing out has no place in mindfulness—it is all about tuning in.

Fitness influences more than just the muscles beneath your skin that aid in the movement of your skeleton and impact your adiposity, strength, stamina, and flexibility of the shape that is uniquely you. Like the benefits listed above, exercise confers numerous health-related advantages, lowering our risk of many diseases and extending our longevity and quality of life. Consider that for every five points that an individual moves past the 30 point BMI, he/she loses 4% of the gray matter of the brain. That muscle beneath the skull, the one that actually gives us the ability to achieve the balance and proprioceptive skills necessary to lift the dumbbells over our heads, is significantly impacted by our focus on health. But without an intentional and direct emphasis on it, we’re choosing a lack of attention on half of the health equation.

A study published in Neuroimaging revealed that mindfulness increases regional gray matter with 8 weeks of practice and the benefits extend beyond formal practice time. Changes occurred most noticeably in the areas of the brain critical in emotional reactions, learning, memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress (Lazar, et al., 2011). (Those of you who struggle with will-power, poor body image, self-control, and related behaviors, I’d listen up). Sorry folks, the most common reason most people use for avoiding adoption of a fitness routine– “I don’t have time”– just won’t fly here. It’s not a valid excuse when it comes to exercise and nutrition, and I feel the same about it in this situation. All of us can say we don’t have the time. We make it for the things that we’ve deemed important. What’s the point of having a healthy body if you don’t have the mental capacity to appreciate it?

Mindful EatingThose of you who set goals for 2013 to lose weight, exercise more, eat more healthfully, or any combination of the three, and  you’re still plugging away, congratulations. Don’t stop. At any time you may stumble, encounter a setback, or feel less than thrilled with your progress, but these are expectable. If you want to ride the roller coaster of life’s ups and downs more resiliently, however, consider the effects of mindfulness on decision  making. A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2011 found that mindfulness practitioners as compared to those who do not engage in mindfulness, use different parts of the brain for decision-making (Kirk, 2011). Rather than impulsive and emotional reactions, the mindful individuals exhibited greater rationality and objectivity. Other research indicates that one of the most crucial components in successful weight loss and weight loss maintenance is behavioral flexibility. That means you have to be able to step out of your black and white, I-have-to-have-it-this-way-or-it’ll-all-fall-apart mindset, and be able to respond versus react.

Okay, if I’ve not convinced you yet, here are five more compelling reasons to begin incorporating mindfulness into your fitness routine.

  1. Mindfulness enhances immune response through increased antibody production.
  2. Attention, anxiety, memory and mood (say that five times fast!) are each impacted positively with mindfulness practice. Just 4 days of practice is all that’s necessary to increase focused attention, working memory and cognition.
  3. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms decreased by 50% with 10 weeks of mindfulness training in a study published in 2010.
  4. Long-term mindfulness practices results in greater brain volume, less atrophy with aging as compared to individuals who do not engage in mindfulness, and strong neural connections.
  5. Binge eating was shown to decrease by 75% in a study conducted at Duke University with use of a mindfulness program.

The evidence is there. Will you put it into practice?

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2 Responses to “Fit and Focused—Mindfulness Matters”

  1. Sandra Briody February 1, 2013 at 5:52 PM #

    I loved that article! Thank you for sharing 🙂 Sandra Briody

    • kpropst February 4, 2013 at 10:55 AM #

      Thank you, Sandra. Enjoy the other posts too. You’ll find them very relevant to your work with me and for your life!: )

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