Tackling goals—whether at work, at home, or in fitness—can be challenging. But if you take care of the mind, it can help you take care of everything else.
If we told you that a meditation practice could help you get fit, would you think we were full of it? Sure, it sounds like a stretch, and we’re not saying that sitting and meditating for 10 minutes will result in washboard abs by next month, but, by understanding your mind better, it could lead to noticeable results on the outside.
Here’s how meditation can supplement your ab workout by building strength from the inside out.
Meditation creates awareness that can interrupt those everyday thoughts before they turn into suffering and distress. Using a “noting technique” may help you realize when anxious thoughts occur and allow you to realize that you are not your thoughts, and these thoughts likely aren’t true. To use a non-exercise-related example, imagine you’re stuck in traffic and you begin to fear that you’ll be late to a scheduled meeting. Your thoughts might take you down a path of “this will lead to loss of business for the company, and my boss will be mad, and I might get fired.” Notice this happening and provide a “note” to those thoughts and say, Oh, that’s anxiety.
Administering a “note” to a thought and seeing it clearly for what it is can provide you with a feeling of space, says Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe. “[The thought] doesn’t feel quite so heavy; it feels lighter,” he says. Use this technique to realize the mind wandered off, got distracted, and you need to gently come back to present moment. “Noting is a soft and gentle practice,” Puddicombe says. He also notes that when you get more comfortable applying that technique, it becomes very useful. In practice, this could help stop that fatalist thinking you experienced in traffic, and remind yourself that you will arrive in time, and there’s nothing you can do in the moment other than remain calm.
The science community continues to examine and find associations between the stress hormone, cortisol, and being overweight, obese or having higher amounts of body fat. Participants in an English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) that were exposed to long-term stress tended to have larger waists and higher body mass indexes (BMI) than those participants who didn’t show signs of constant stress, according to study results published in the journal Obesity. The study examined over 2,500 men and women over age 50 in England and looked at levels of cortisol in their hair. Those participants with higher cortisol levels were associated with persistence of obesity over a four-year span.
Cortisol is useful when you’re in a dangerous situation since it increases sugars in the bloodstream, suppresses non-essential functionality and basically tells your body, “Something’s wrong, let’s get out of here!” That was a great tool for our ancestors who experienced more environmental, life-threatening dangers than us; but the long-term physiological reactions brought on by psychological stress in modern times lead to health problems like anxiety and depression, heart disease, digestive problems, and weight gain, according to the MayoClinic.org. Decreasing stress by using mindful techniques can lead to better physical health.
One study incorporated mindfulness techniques with a group of overweight and obese women who tended to stress eat. The women in the study who received a mindfulness intervention during a retreat weekend showed signs of improved overall mindfulness, anxiety, and a reduction in stress eating four months later. They pared down their stress eating instances and, more importantly, showed reductions in their bodies’ cortisol awakening responses. The reduction in those cortisol surges might help reduce belly fat over time, suggested the study authors.
Anyone who’s embarked on a fitness routine and training plan knows that setbacks can happen. Whether you’re trying to lose weight and face a plateau or want to improve your 10K time and struggle to build speed, being patient and gentle with yourself during the process might not come naturally. That’s where meditation can help. A recent study on college students found that women who practiced mindfulness techniques for three, one-hour sessions over the course of a 12-week class had improvements on self-compassion skills, were less self-critical and kinder to themselves. While the men experienced some positive benefits with mood, their overall effects weren’t as pronounced as the women’s results. Being more aware of your thoughts, and dismissing the negative ones faster, can help you be more loving toward yourself—which will set you up to succeed in every area of your life.
Having a meditation practice as part of your routine might help you become more likely to set and reach your goals. One study examined college students who filled out a questionnaire that assessed their mindfulness and wellbeing as well as goals they were pursuing. Students who practiced more present moment awareness tended to engage in personal goals for autonomous and self-determined motives, according to the study results, published in the International Journal of Well-Being. When you’re building self-awareness and mindfulness through meditation, that can spill over to other areas of your life. Those same intrinsic qualities that make you likely to stick to a meditation practice might help you be dedicated to your workout routine.
Better adherence to your physical training means you’ll be more likely to accomplish your goals and maybe even rock some abs.
This piece was produced in partnership with Nike Training Club. To get started on your fitness journey, download the NTC app here.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.