Between strength training, running, yoga, and fitting in a rest day or two, you might feel like your workout routine is already fairly balanced. But, just as you prioritize exercising your body, it’s also important to work out your mind. That’s where meditating can be a perfect complement to sweating it out. Mindfulness supports your mental health, improves performance, and reduces stress. It may even help build muscle. Best of all, it’s a free, short way to kick off or wind down your daily workout. Our experts share five reasons to add meditation to your exercise routine today.
In a 2016 study in Translational Psychiatry, researchers found that a combination of meditation and exercise done twice a week for two months could reduce depressive symptoms by up to 40 percent. Both exercise and meditation alone can boost your mood. But when you put them together, you get even more bang for your buck.
If you’re striving to have a well-rounded health and wellness routine, says Aaptiv Trainer Ceasar Barajas, then including the mental component is a no-brainer. “Overall good health encompasses the physical, spiritual, and mental, and connects them all,” he continues. “Think of it this way. You physically train your body to get stronger, faster, and increase stamina. Why would you not have a regular training routine to increase your mental health strength? ‘Regular’ workouts are not the same thing, and these two cannot be interchanged.”
“Meditation allows you to reduce stress. [It] brings a sense of peace and calm to your workout, whether or not you achieve your goals,” says Ian White, a Utah-based yoga teacher who has been teaching meditation practices since 1991. “It also allows you to be at peace with your body, body image, and performance. If you are filled with anxiety, stimulants, or adrenaline, you probably won’t perform to the best of your ability. If your mind is calm, clear, and focused, you probably will excel.”
Some research backs up this theory. In a study of Division I football players, experts wondered if athletes who trained their minds as much as their bodies would experience any changes in their mental state. They found that by adding small amounts of mindfulness and relaxation meditation to physical workouts, the players were less likely to see a decline in sustained attention span or well-being. And, due to the overall benefits of meditation as a whole, says Meditation Expert Susan Shumsky, anyone who works out and wants to stay healthy would be remiss to not add meditation to their exercise routine.
“Remember, the mind and body are connected. Strong mind, strong body,” says Aaptiv Trainer Jade Alexis. “When your mind is clear and void of distraction, stress, tension, and anxiety, you are likely to have better focus and perform better in all that you do. [That] includes your workout.”
Stress in the body can be a good thing, to some degree, since it helps you get stronger and faster. However, over time, all that stress can lead to inflammation, fat storage, and mental fogginess. That’s why meditation’s ability to decrease amounts of cortisol in the body is ideal. Practicing a few minutes of mindfulness post-workout can be optimal for stress management. Additionally, meditation has been shown to minimize pain perception and balance growth hormones necessary for muscle building.
If you’re one of those people who thinks meditation sounds nice, but you don’t really have “enough time for it,” think again, says Alexis. You don’t need to necessarily swap out an HIIT session for a meditation practice. But you can add meditation to your exercise by shaving off a few minutes from that same workout.
“Meditation shouldn’t replace a workout,” agrees Sena Moran, a yoga instructor and licensed mental health counselor. “Meditation works very well at the end of a workout, when you are feeling good and in the moment. Sitting or lying down in a meditation at the end of a workout allows your body to calm down. Be present with yourself, and express some intentional self love. Often times, we end up rushing off to the next thing after exercise. [This] prevents us from contacting the mental benefits that come right after exercise. It is important to feel these benefits. They can be very reinforcing for keeping a regular workout routine in the long-term.”
In other words, view meditation and exercise as good companions, not replacements for each other. “Here’s a rule of thumb,” offers White. “If you are in amazing physical shape and devote much of your time to perfecting your body, trade some time out to enhance your spirituality.”
“There is no set amount of times per week to meditate,” says Barajas. “Take a moment to meditate for some controlled deep breaths before a workout. [Mediation] can give you a chance to focus on what’s upcoming. In the same light, take a few moments to breathe deeply post-workout. [It] allows a wave of gratitude to flow over the body for what you have just physically accomplished. Meditation is intentional thinking. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time.”