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Physical exercise combined with mindfulness lifts mood and improves health

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Life changes that combine both physical activity and mindfulness are most effective at lifting mood and improving health and wellbeing, a new study has found.

Both physical activity and mindfulness have well-established psychological benefits.

However, the new study is one of the first to show how the positive effects can be increased when the two are combined.

The findings suggest that mindfulness can help to unlock exercise by helping to motivate people to start in the first place, while overcoming minor pain, discomfort or feelings of failure when exercising gets hard.

Analysis of existing research found that mindfulness is highly effective at reducing worry, stress, anxiety, and helping people to live healthier, happier lives.

The benefits to mental and physical health from mindfulness were found in people with and without health issues.

Masha Remskar from the University of Bath Department of Health explained: “Starting 2024 with a resolution to exercise more can have really positive physical and mental health benefits.

“But we know that starting out can be tough and that it can also be hard to stick with it over time.

“Mindfulness is an approach that can help us ‘train up’ the psychological strengths we need to exercise and be more in tune with our bodies, as well as make exercising more interesting and help us recognise its benefits.

“This may be because becoming more mindful prompts us to think differently about our lifestyle, makes us more accepting and less judgemental of our own shortcomings, which can help to build healthy habits.

“There is a huge potential to use mindfulness to unlock the positive benefits exercise can bring.”

The study was conducted by psychologist Remskar, an expert in behaviour change, mindfulness and exercise, with support from the Medito Foundation – a mindfulness non-profit with a mission to build a more mindful world.

Through its work, Medito has developed a free mindfulness meditation app – as an alternative to paid-for services such as Headspace and Calm.

The foundation is collaborating with Bath to help improve people’s mental wellbeing but also to help them get more active.

Based on the research findings, the team has created and released the first of two mindfulness audio courses aiming to help people get into the habit of exercise.

Later in 2024, they aims to release a second guide, focused on sustaining their exercise habit.

Steven Yorke, co-founder at Medito, said: “Mindfulness mobile apps are a great way to boost our mental wellbeing.

“Unfortunately, all too often companies put up paywalls, making the benefits of mindfulness inaccessible to some.

“At Medito, we believe that meditation and mindfulness should be available free of charge, to anyone, forever.

“This is why our mindfulness app, Medito, is and always will be free.

“This collaboration with the University of Bath has been a great way to expand the range of mindfulness meditations we can offer, and it feels great to be at the cutting edge of mindfulness science while we do this.”

Building on this work, the team are set to start conducting a larger trial to determine the effectiveness and optimal intervention moments for combining exercise and mindfulness.

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