Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 01, 2006
Use movement to explore the connection between body and mind.
Mind and body fitness? Many people who want to get into shape don’t realize there is more to fitness than well-toned muscles. There’s no shortage of exercise regimes that just promote the perfection of the body, or the idea of fitness as a part of a weight loss plan.
Centuries ago, Western culture lost its focus on the interconnectedness between the body and the mind or spirit, and how each has the power to affect the other. Cultivating a love of movement can help you get beyond the concept of physical fitness as separate from mental fitness – and toward a lifelong program of good health through mind and body fitness.
Whether you choose yoga or another form of movement for exercise, remember that our bodies are made to move to feel good. So when you incorporate regular activity in your life, you’re moving closer to overall mind and body fitness. But if you are overweight, this can be more difficult. You can improve your mind-body connection for better mind and body fitness – it’s just important to choose realistic fitness options.
You might consider redefining exercise as any activity that unites your mind and body and reduces your stress level. In fact, high levels of stress have been linked to weight gain, and certainly can lead to emotional eating. Finding activities that are both enjoyable and easy to do is important when developing any type of exercise plan.
It’s important to be realistic about what we expect from ourselves. Consider your goals. Is 30 to 60 minutes on a treadmill a reasonable time frame at this point in your life? Are you setting yourself up for failure or success when you create this expectation for yourself? Would it be more enjoyable to you to do some stretching and a shorter period of time on the treadmill?
Developing an exercise plan that fits your lifestyle and your desires is critical. Surprisingly, long-term weight loss is linked more closely to whether a person sticks to their fitness routine than to what that routine actually consists of. A routine that is gentle and pleasurable is more likely to lead to the long-term gains you are seeking.
All-or-nothing thinking about exercise leads us to first bite off more than we can chew and then give up all together. Just walk into a gym in the month of January and try to get on a Stairmaster. There’s a good chance you’ll have to wait in line. But by March or April, there are usually plenty of free machines.
It is also important to tailor your fitness goals to your preferences. Some people like the idea of getting out of the house in the evening and going to the gym. Others prefer staying home and doing a quieter exercise routine after the demands of a stressful day. Either approach, or a combination of the two, can result in improved mind and body fitness.
What is critical is for you to come to know yourself and to take yourself seriously. If you like to be home in the evenings, find things to do in your home or consider an occasional walk with friends or family. If you crave the company of others, head for the gym. Think about what would please you most, and follow your inner voice.
Many people who are preoccupied with food and body issues tend to pay too much attention to the needs of others, while paying too little attention to their own needs. While you may intend to benefit your children with their countless activities, the added stress can cause an imbalance within your family. Can you take a look at your schedule (or your family’s) and reschedule some time for yourself? What would it be like to say no?
Long-term weight loss can take time. And we can get demoralized when we don’t see immediate results. But remember that maintaining an exercise routine is associated with physical as well as mental well-being. Where has our focus on the numbers on our scale gotten us? Some would say it has taken us to more harsh thoughts, more bingeing and grazing on food, and, ironically, less fitness rather than more.
It may be that the best exercise you can do right now is to throw your scale into the garbage. Focus on how you’re feeling with your exercise routine. Is it something you enjoy and can maintain? Is it reducing your stress level and allowing a connection between your mind and body? If so, you’ll probably keep it up, and fitness of mind and body and spirit will be yours.
Don’t forget how important it is to see your physician before starting any type of exercise routine, and to following his or her recommendations. So try to be gentle with yourself and realistic about how to proceed.
There is tremendous confusion in our society about how to approach health and fitness. You may have tried losing weight before and failed. But consider the possibility that we as a society have not failed at dieting and weight loss. Rather, dieting has failed us as an effective tool for fitness.
Remember that fitness of mind and body belong together, and that exercise is very narrowly defined in our society. So redefine exercise as any activity that reduces stress and connects your mind and body. You’ll be more likely to continue your exercise plan and achieve the outcome you’re looking for.