Denise Evans, Clinical Counsellor

Exercise boosts emotional well being

Posted by Denise on Oct 22 2010

In the recent research on both physical and mental health, exercise and mindfulness meditation are frequently cited as two of the best treatments for many problems.

Most of us won’t be surprised to learn that exercise is an effective treatment for physical problems ranging from heart disease to high blood pressure to diabetes. But what might be surprising is that it aerobic exercise is also a highly effective treatment for depression. The general recommendation is that people get at least ½ hour per day with an escalated heart rate—not pushing yourself so hard that you wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation, but hard enough that you would have to take deep breaths. You can walk, run, bike, swim or do any other form of rhythmic, continuous exercise. Getting outside and enjoying fresh air and green space will also uplift your mood.
In their new book, Fully Present, Susan Smalley and Diana Winston state that the recent research shows that repeated mindfulness meditation practise is effective in reducing stress and chronic physical pain; in boosting the body’s immune system; in coping with painful life events; in dealing with negative emotions such as anger or fear; in increasing self-awareness to discover harmful reactive patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour; in improving attention or concentration; in enhancing positive emotions, including happiness and compassion; in increasing interpersonal skills and relationships; in reducing addictive behaviours; in enhancing performance, whether in work, sports, or academics; in stimulating and releasing creativity; and in positively  changing the actual structure of the brain. Mindfulness practise seems to help in almost all aspects of daily life.
Mindfulness practise is simply to be conscious of your present experience. It can be practised through various meditation techniques, including sitting practise or breath work, yoga, tai chi, or chi gung. But is can also be practised by focusing upon sipping a cup of tea, enjoying its warmth and fragrance; focusing upon the warmth and silkiness of the warm shower on your skin; or by walking in the sunshine and paying attention to the warmth of the sun and coolness of the shadow, the intense greens of the plants, the musky/spicy smell of the alder, the trill of the birds and squirrels, and the taste of the clean air on your tongue.
You can combine exercise and mindfulness practise, by exercising mindfully. Pay attention to every step you take, to your fingers in every crevasse in the rock, to every root on the trail as you pick your line on your bike. In fact, you probably realise that you are already exercising mindfully when climbing, biking, boarding, etc., because paying attention is what enables you to do those activities successfully. The combination of exercise and mindfulness is not only good for what ails you, but gives you that sense of exhilaration and relaxation at the conclusion of your day.
So exercise and mindfulness practise, in combination or alone: the cornerstones of physical and mental wellness.  

Last changed: Oct 22 2010 at 5:57 PM

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