Mindfulness matters, even during exercise

05.14.15 |

Mindfulness is the key to unlocking the Habits of Health. When routine takes over, we slip in to automatic behaviors that often reward Habits of Disease. We eat a whole bag of chips while we binge on television. We feel tired, so we reach for a cup of coffee even if it’s 4 p.m. in the afternoon. We had a bad day at work, so we drain a six-pack to unwind.
When we become mindful, we recognize the triggers for our Habits of Disease, giving us the opportunity to reprogram them to be Habits of Health.

I’ve written a great deal on this topic, but it bears repeating: mindfulness matters.

Researchers at Kent State recently explored how smartphone use impacted exercise. Not surprisingly, the distraction of checking a phone during a workout lead to a reduction of intensity, which in turn reduces the rewards for exercising in the first place.

“The high-frequency cell phone user may not have the leisure skills necessary to creatively fill their free time with intrinsically rewarding activities,” Andrew Lepp, one of the researchers, said. “For such people, the ever-present smartphone may provide an easy, but less satisfying and more stressful, means of filling their time.”

When we become mindful, we recognize the triggers for our Habits of Disease, giving us the opportunity to reprogram them to be Habits of Health.

We have known for some time that smartphones can be addicting. The reward for checking your messages or looking at another cat photo provides a small amount of gratification. Even if that gratification is extremely minute, we quickly train ourselves to seek out that reward. That distraction can have a number of consequences, even in the moments where we are—attempting—to focus exclusively on an activity designed to make us healthier.

The drop in intensity that the researchers noted is connected to mindfulness, or rather, the lack thereof. It’s worth noting here that your workout does not need to be radically intense for it to be beneficial. What they mean by a drop in intensity is more about losing focus on your exercise. For example, you might walk a bit more slowly when you get a text message. You might take a bit longer to begin your next set because you are replying to an email.

Those pauses add up, and before you know it your workout is over and you have accomplished far less than you could have.

Tips to get the most out of excercise

To get the most out of your exercise, you must be present for it. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Embrace airplane mode. If you use your phone to listen to music while you exercise, switch it into airplane mode to eliminate distracting emails or messages.
  • Workout with a friend. Whether you are taking walks or hitting the weights, having a workout buddy can keep you in the moment and on task.
  • Keep your exercise interesting. If your workouts feel dull, spice them up! Go for walks on a trail instead of on a treadmill, or try a new group class or activity.
  • Set challenging goals. Just going through the motions can drop your performance in any endeavor. Challenge yourself to be a little bit better today than yesterday, whether that means shaving a few seconds off of your time or walking just a few steps farther.

Exercise is a valuable opportunity to not only improve your health but to shutout the static of a bustling world, if only for an hour. Enjoy it! Put the phone down and have some you time.