What You Should Know About the Mind-Body Connection
The concept that mental well-being affects physical health isn’t new. We now know that practices such as meditation can reduce stress, but working out also plays an important role. Exercise also improves brain function for even more benefits.
New technologies have given scientists new tools for studying the brain. They can now identify the specific ways that your brain responds to working out regularly. We’ll list several mind-body techniques that you can try to improve your mental and physical well-being. They’ll improve your performance and quality of life both in and out of the ring.
What Is the Mind-Body Connection?
The mind-body connection describes the link between your mental and physical health. It includes factors such as your emotions, social interactions, belief system, and behavior. Each of these influence your well-being in varying degrees which is why it’s been said that they’re connected.
Let’s say that you’re having a rotten day at work where nothing seems to go your way. Maybe your commute was especially bad, making you late. Think of how your mood will affect the rest of your day and your performance during your workout as a result.
Fortunately, there are several ways you can turn things around using mind-body therapies (MBTs) like meditation, guided imagery, and yoga. These practices can calm down your mind so that you can focus better on what you’re doing. The benefits go far beyond work and exercise and actually have large impacts on your health.
How Does It Work?
MBTs can improve your health and well-being in several ways, beginning with providing you with some welcome relaxation. These practices are also helpful for individuals with heart disease as they may help lower your blood pressure.
They can also help you boost your resilience against illnesses by reducing the damage caused by the stress hormone, cortisol. MBTs may help researchers find a way to target the stress hormone, cortisol, and reduce its effects on your immune system from stress, and inflammation. Long-term stress is also a risk factor for heart disease.
But wait, there’s more good news about the mind-body connection and your athletic performance! A regular practice of MBTs may even help you manage pain and find relief from anxiety symptoms.
That all makes sense given our evolutionary history and our adoption of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. It became essential to work out the problems of survival that these changes brought to the table. Making a living became just as much a physical task when humans began to hunt as it was a mental one, thus, the mind-body connection. In short, our brains need exercise.
Exercise and the Mind-Body Connection
Now that we’ve considered the effects, let’s look under the hood to see how this mind-body connection works. The nerve cells or neurons in your brain communicate with each other using chemicals called neurotransmitters. And even more promising is the fact that intense exercise can increase levels of two important chemicals.
To explore this idea, participants worked out at 85 percent of their maximum heart rate for 20 minutes. The researchers used MRI imaging to measure levels of glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) before and after workouts. They found significant increases when they were tested within three minutes after working out compared to the group that didn’t.
That means better communication between nerve cells and a possible therapy for treating depression. That’s not the only brain health benefit of regular workouts. Exercise can help maintain good brain health even as you age and may even improve your memory.
Bring Mindfulness to Your Training
The evidence is clear that the mind-body connection is something that works both ways. Your workouts benefit your brain physically and MBTs can improve your mood and performance in the ring. Let’s explore some ways you can make it work for you.
Create a Routine You’ll Practice Daily
One of the best ways to tap into the potential of the mind-body connection is to make mindfulness a daily ritual so that it becomes a habit. To reinforce the habit, do it at the same time every day. Some ideas include:
A short, five-minute meditation session.
Two to five minutes of deep breathing.
Mindfulness practice where you stay in the moment as opposed to thinking about the past or future events.
Body scan, focusing your attention on each part of your body.
Use Visualization Techniques
Visualization is a powerful tool that is worth exploring. It’s like giving your brain instructions on what it should do next. Imagine yourself getting ready to exercise and having a successful workout. If you can see it, you can be it.
Make Positive Associations
Positive thinking isn’t just about seeing the bright side of things. It’s also about giving yourself an attitude adjustment in a good way. It opens up your mind to more ideas and possibilities that can translate into better performance and workouts.
Humans survived because they evolved to be hyper-alert to negative things such as threats in their surroundings. For the first humans, mistaking a boulder for a tiger wasn’t a problem because a boulder can’t attack; but mistaking a tiger for a rock could get you killed. Thus, we knew to pay more attention to our surroundings to identify potential dangers.
In most cases, the hyper attentiveness to negativity and dangers is no longer required for survival. Instead, we must shift our focus to the positive. You may find it takes some effort to switch your way of thinking, but it’s worth it.
Stay in the Moment
Too often, our minds get caught up in a bunch of crazy thoughts. We worry about the future and dredge up regrets about the past; nothing can be less productive and more harmful to your workouts. Instead, stay in the present by paying attention to what you are doing and how your body feels.
Humans evolved by responding to the demands of their world to grow physically and mentally. It paved the way for the mind-body connection that flourishes today. It’s the ultimate win-win situation with exercise fueling the brain and mindfulness providing the means to do it.
Remember, the easiest path is the one with the least resistance. Tapping into the natural hardwiring that exists with your mind and body is an excellent way to take your workouts to the next level. It all begins with a positive thought. And as the poet, William Wordsworth once said, “To begin, begin.”