We’ve all heard that taking a walk or engaging in any form of exercise lowers stress. Researchers at Penn State found the anxiety-reducing benefit of movement can be boosted by combining it with mindfulness. According to lead author Chih-Hsiang “Jason” Yang, the results suggest an easy means of improving well-being throughout the day.
“It can be difficult to ask people to spend a lot of time doing moderate or vigorous activity by going to the gym or out for a run, especially if they feel stressed,” said Yang. “But if they don’t need to change their everyday behavior, and can instead try to change their state of mind by becoming more mindful, they can probably see this beneficial effect. You don’t need to exert a lot of extra effort in order to improve your well-being by being more mindful while you’re moving around.”
Combining mindfulness with an activity like walking could help people who are unable to engage in a vigorous workout, said coauthor David Conroy. “If someone is looking for a way to manage these kinds of feelings, it may be worth trying some sort of mindful movement. This option may be especially beneficial for people who don’t enjoy exercise and would prefer a less intense form of physical activity,” he said.
The American College Health Association reports that more than half of college students suffer mental exhaustion, anxiety or sadness at least once a year, indicating a need for a simple way to alleviate negative emotions. Because students are often walking to class or engaging in other activities, the researchers wanted to ascertain if a relationship exists between movement, mindfulness and better emotional well-being.
Mindfulness Amplified the Positive Emotional Boost Produced by Movement
Participants in the study consisted of 158 Penn State students. A mobile phone app alerted the students eight times per day at random to obtain information about their activity and state of mind. The prompts included questions about the participants’ location, activity level and emotions they were experiencing, along with questions to evaluate their degree of mindfulness.
Data analysis showed that when the participants were more active or mindful, they suffered less negative emotions. In addition, the data revealed a possible synergistic effect when the students were active and mindful at the same time.
“When people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have this extra decrease in negative affect,” said Yang. “Being more active in a given moment is already going to reduce negative affect, but by also being more mindful than usual at the same time, you can see this amplified affect.”
Conroy expressed interest in observing patterns within individual participants, as opposed to comparing people who are more mindful with those who are less mindful.
“Most studies in this area have focused on the differences between people who are more versus people who are less mindful, but we saw that college students often slipped in and out of mindful states during the day,” said Conroy. “Developing the ability to shift into these states of mindfulness as needed may be valuable for improving self-regulation and well-being.”
Mindful Walking Lowered Negative Emotions in Older Adults
To investigate further the effect of mindfulness on emotions, Yang conducted a second study involving older adults. The participants were asked to walk outdoors and pay close attention to the sights and sounds in the environment, along with their own sensations. He discovered that mindful walking was associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
Next time you walk, instead of thinking about what you need to do later in the day, take a mental vacation by being in the moment. Pay attention to how your body feels. Let your eyes rove over your environment, noticing every detail, such as the blueness of the sky, foliage on the trees and a smile on a child’s face. Use your sense of hearing, touch and smell as well; for example, be aware of chirping birds, crackling leaves, the scent of rain or a gentle breeze. Like the researchers indicated, such efforts involved in mindfulness are small, yet they can improve your emotional health.
The study was published in the journal Psychology of Sports and Exercise.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.