Exercise is Medicine, but Mindset Matters

You don’t need megadoses of the medicine of exercise to be healthy and well, when you have the right mindsets about moving.  

Over the past four weeks, we looked at 

  • how you can use your mind and your body together to get the most out of exercise while reducing stress and keeping your immune system strong.
  • the ways your mindsets about exercise can not only limit the benefits, but keep you struggling to stay motivated.
  • the science-backed fact that when your mind and body are working together, exercise is a user-friendly and time-friendly way to take care of yourself, and be more confident in your health and well-being.

Let’s review what we covered in this series to find the three takeaways that will turn exercise into the kind of medicine that you can enjoy ‘taking’ every day.   

How to get results from exercise with mindset

In Got stress build-up? Here’s a simple solution, we saw how stress is like putting air into a balloon, each stressor adding to the tension in our bodies and the limits of our minds. Physiologists know that through a vast network of nerves that connect the brain and the body, every thought you have is held in your body, and every body sensation changes your brain1. There is a constant, mostly subconscious, back-and-forth conversation between these two parts of you. The conversation either promotes healing and protects health by keeping you in Recharge Mode, or keeps your mind too focused on a problem and your body on high alert, ready to fight or flee that threat to your well-being. Because most of our ‘threats’ do not require movement, just thinking differently is an incomplete way to get rid of stress. Movement gives the body what it has prepared for but only if that movement does not perpetuate the alarm. Recharge Pauses are a way to move with a mindset that helps both your mind and body return to a healing and healthy state for more moments of the day. 

Our first Recharge Pause took movements that have been shown to boost confidence-building hormones like testosterone while reducing stress-producing substances like cortisol and added movement science to ensure you know how to move the way your body is designed.2

How mind-body exercise really works

In When it comes to exercise, stop trying so hard, we used the common mindfulness practice of Noting and added movement. Why? Because when you exercise in order to get to a future state, you miss out on the added benefits of presence. Depression is when your brain hangs out too much in the past. Anxiety is when your brain hangs out too much in the future. The brain likes a sense of control, but all the thinking in the world will not change the past, nor will it give you control over what will happen to you in the future. Your brain’s job is to keep you safe, and those imagined states of past and future reduce its ability to do its job, keeping you in Alarm Mode. 

Mindfulness is the practice of keeping your attention in the present, recognizing when your brain has time traveled.3 Presence calms the brain because it restores a sense of its ability to help you stay safe, based on what is right here and right now. 

Your brain will time travel and put your body in an alarm, it’s just the way you are hardwired.  Since your body is designed to move in response to stress, why not give it what it needs while using the power of mindfulness to give the brain what it needs? 

Active Noting Practice is a way to get the best of both movement and mindfulness by keeping your focus on observing your body while you move. Consider how you feel when you are exercising to try to burn calories you regret eating in the past or when you are exercising because you fear a health issue in the future. Try this Recharge Pause and notice how it feels to simply move with a mindset of noticing what is happening in your body, with the intent of taking care of your body right now.  The irony is that presence while you move promotes health and puts your body in a state that helps you lose weight and be healthy, without all that ‘trying’. 

How to stay safe, and well for the long haul of the pandemic

In ‘Stay safe’ fatigue? Here’s a healthy remedy, we looked at how we can not just stay safe, but well during this pandemic, by spending less time in Alarm Mode and more time in Recharge Mode. Safe to your brain means you are content, have what you need to survive, and are connected with a ‘tribe’ of people who care about you and for whom you care.

When any one of these are missing or there is even a threat of one missing, your ‘guard dog’ lets you know by sounding the alarm. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single aspect of our safety—our food sources, our loved ones, our jobs, and our community connections. When the threats are to every aspect of our well-being, with little control or end in sight, that alarm is triggered everywhere we turn. This function of the brain to scan the past, present, and future for threats to our safety is called the ‘negativity bias’. It’s there to keep us safe but is overused in today’s world, where our brains are flooded with media, and our bodies bear the brunt of that constant alarm.  

This is the time you need a long-term solution to staying safe. The Recharge Pause below calms the alarm by giving your brain and body what it needs: reminders that in this moment you are safe, contented, and connected.

How your body will survive and thrive

In Your body and mind are designed to survive. Trust them and you will thrive, we use a Recharge Pause to remind you that your brain, body, and heart all work together beautifully. They are not problems to be solved, they are incredible systems to be celebrated. Trusting this fact is the way to be well and feel better now, which leads to better health and motivation for self-care in the future. 

There is no better example than exercise of  how we break down the relationship between the brain and body.  You are told you need to put down your body to get motivated to exercise.  Your body is portrayed as a problem to be fixed rather than an amazing collection of systems constantly working to take care of you. Exercise is reduced to a way to burn off last night’s decadent dessert and mold your body, chiseling away at all the ‘bad parts’ to achieve a look in the future. Fear of disease is used as a motivator, and pain is promoted as a sign of progress rather than a warning to prevent you from further injury.  

The Recharge Pause Celebrate Self-care reminds you that exercise when it is done for the purpose of being healthier is a form of self-care. It helps you shift out of the mindset that exercise is a form of punishment to ‘get through’ and into a mindset that it is a gift you are giving yourself to be well now. The research behind it is clear: the mindset of self-kindness puts you back into Recharge Mode while setting up your mind for more lasting motivation than criticism and mental put-downs ever will.  

Three takeaways that turn exercise into medicine by adding a healthy mindset

  1. Exercise works best when it involves your whole person. When your brain is in the present, it helps your body use movement to calm the alarm and get back to the state where you can more easily get what you really want from exercise.
  2. Exercise works best when it is an act of self-care. When you choose to move not as a punishment,  or motivated by fear, disgust, and remorse, but because you care about your whole person right now, the results for your whole person are greater and motivation is more lasting. 
  3. Exercise when it is done with a mindset of presence and self-care is the complete antidote to stress. Whole-person exercise calms the alarm and puts you back in a state of healing and health, without the need for megadoses. The amount of time, distance, or speed you move for your health and well-being is not as important  as the mindset with which you move.  

Exercise with a mindset of presence and self-care is the medicine we need right now. You don’t need megadoses, but you do need a dose every time the alarm is triggered. Recharge Pauses are a convenient way to practice shifting to the mindset that makes exercise a powerful medicine for you to stay safe and well and keep you enjoying more of life.  

Enjoy Exercising and Be WELL,

Janet

Sources:

  1. Pelletier, K. R. (1992). Mind-Body Health: Research, Clinical, and Policy Applications. American Journal of Health Promotion, 6(5), 345–358. 
  2. Cuddy, A. J. C., Schultz, S. J., & Fosse, N. E. (2018). P-Curving a More Comprehensive Body of Research on Postural Feedback Reveals Clear Evidential Value for Power-Posing Effects: Reply to Simmons and Simonsohn (2017). Psychological Science, 29(4), 656–666.
  3. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057–1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
  4. Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Unabridged ed. [Melbourne, Vic.]: Bolinda audio, 2014.

3 thoughts on “Exercise is Medicine, but Mindset Matters

  1. 👏🏻💪🏻👊🏻

    “ Depression is when your brain hangs out too much in the past. Anxiety is when your brain hangs out too much in the future.”!!!

    Keep up the loving kindness you’re a blessing!

    ☮️

    Like

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