The benefits of exercise at countering the effects of too many hours spent at a desk or on the couch, have long been established. Over the past decade, research has shown that exercise is beneficial for a host of conditions, including stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s, ADHD and cancer recovery.
Scientists have also found that physical activity can play a unique role in helping those who are overcoming addiction – even addictions to substances such as meth, which can be resistant to any type of medication and incredibly tough to overcome. Regardless of the reason you have welcomed physical fitness into your life, however, it is vital that you believe in its power to help you achieve greater health. One new study sheds light on the overwhelming importance of belief.
The study, carried out by psychologist, Hendrik Mothes of the University of Freiburg (Sport Science Department) showed that test subjects who already know of the positive effects that exercise is having on them, before they take part in their chosen activity, enjoy greater psychological and neuropsychological benefits.
The research, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine , involved 76 participants (male and female, aged 18 to 32). All participants took part in 30-minute stationary biking session but before that, they were separated into different groups. Each group watch a different short film that either hailed the benefits of cycling for health. Participants were also asked if they believed in the benefits of physical activity, prior to the biking session.
The results indicated that those who already believed that exercise wielded positive effects on their health, had a greater improvement in mood and a stronger reduction in anxiety levels, than those who did not view exercise in such a positive light. Moreover, those who had positive expectations and who watched films praising cycling, enjoyed an important neurophysiological difference compared to their more negative counterparts: they enjoyed greater neuronal relaxation.
The ability of exercise to counter the sometimes debilitating effects of anxiety (panic attacks are just one of anxiety’s most devastating consequences) make it the ideal first line of defense for those battling anxiety disorder, which is the most common mental condition in the United States (anxiety affects 40 million adults).
Those with anxiety are up to five times more likely to pay a visit to the doctor and up to six times more likely to be hospitalised for a psychiatric condition than those who do not suffer from this disorder. Despite the high prevalence of anxiety, professionals all too often prescribe medication as part of the treatment, when many individuals find that simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference they need.
The researchers noted that although the study focused on cycling, the results would probably be the same regardless of the chosen sport. Mothes stated that having a positive attitude to exercise and sports is vital in order to achieve the greatest benefits. When we believe that our efforts will bring interesting rewards, we become more motivated to work harder, as well as take a more consistent approach to sports. When we are unsure about what good we are actually doing our body and mind through exercise, on the contrary, we can grow lazier and lose motivation, sometimes ceasing to work out for weeks, months, or years.
We can take the findings our this research further – if our commitment to physical activity depends to a great degree on psychological factors, then activities that foster positivity and mindfulness should be encouraged. Activities such as yoga, which have a strong mindfulness component, also work to foster a positive attitude to health, help lower anxiety and boost our self-confidence with respect to our physical and mental accomplishments. Yoga helps modulate the stress response systems, which reduce physiological arousal – thus, yoga helps lower the heart rate and blood pressure, and ease our breathing rate. Its positive effect on our stress response helps battle depression, which can seriously wrest from our motivation to stick to a regular workout routine.
Even those with a busy sports schedule should take the time for a mindfulness activity; even 15 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation and abdominal breathing can help to keep stress levels down and enhance our general positivity. Indeed, the benefits of yoga for anxiety and depression have long been established.
An article by Helen Thomas