June 17, 2024

Increased awareness is associated with increased levels of exercise motivation, studies find

New research provides evidence that people who are more mindful of exercise have healthier relationships. The study, published in Limits in Sport and Active Livingfound that increased mindfulness is positively related to exercise self-determination and negatively related to psychological distress about exercise.

The motivation behind this study arose from recognizing the vital role that physical activity plays in promoting physical and psychological health. Physical activity is known to have many benefits, and sedentary behavior can lead to a variety of health issues. Despite public health campaigns and awareness of the benefits of physical activity, a significant portion of the population meets the recommended exercise guidelines.

To address this question, the researchers aimed to understand the psychological mechanisms underlying physical activity. They were particularly interested in exploring the concept of mindfulness, which showed potential for promoting health behavior changes. It has been associated with various positive health behaviors, including smoking cessation and overeating.

“We were interested in this subject because it is difficult to find motivation to exercise; only 23% of Americans currently get the recommended levels of physical activity from the Center for Disease Control/American Heart Association,” said the study’s author Julia lowis an assistant professor at Virginia Tech and director of the Incorporated Brain Lab

“On a scientific level, we need to understand ways to increase exercise motivation. My research and my lab’s research focuses on the effects of mind-body movement practices such as dance and yoga on brain function and physiology. We are also interested in ways to encourage engagement in health behaviours, including eating well and exercise.”

“In the case of this particular subject, we were interested in how the psychological state of mindfulness was related to exercise motivation. For the sake of clarity, mindfulness or a specific mindset is the psychological state of remaining attuned to the present moment’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions without judgement.”

To conduct the study, the researchers recruited 205 healthy male and female participants between the ages of 25 and 59 from Austin, TX, and New York, NY. Participants were excluded if they had certain health conditions, psychiatric or neurological disorders, or were current smokers. All participants gave informed consent, and the study protocol was approved by the New York University Committee on Activities Involving Human Subjects.

Participants self-reported their exercise levels, classifying themselves as low or moderate exercisers based on their weekly exercise duration and frequency. They completed a series of self-report questionnaires to assess various aspects of mindfulness and exercise motivation. The researchers also used several validated scales to measure various aspects of the participants’ psychological states related to exercise.

The researchers found that people with a higher level of mindfulness were more inclined to exercise and were less likely to experience negative psychological distress while exercising. This suggests that “exercise may be more positive if attention levels are high,” Basso explained.

The study also showed that mindful people were less motivated by external factors such as social recognition, competition, or appearance when it comes to exercise. They were more driven by internal factors such as personal goals and well-being. In addition, mindfulness was associated with a reduced likelihood of exercise addiction symptoms, such as lack of control, withdrawal, and neglect of other activities due to exercise.

“​​​​​​​We found that increased awareness is associated with increased levels of exercise motivation,” Basso told PsyPost. “Also, we found that individuals with high levels of mindfulness are less likely to engage in exercise due to an internal sense or pressure/guilt or an external sense of reward or punishment. Finally, higher levels of mental alertness were associated with lower levels of exercise addiction or dependence.”

The researchers said the findings suggest that mental nutrition may help individuals develop a positive and sustainable relationship with exercise. Mindfulness interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction or mindfulness meditation, may be useful in promoting exercise motivation and reducing barriers to physical activity.

“Future studies will need to address whether such interventions can help to improve motivation for exercise and subsequent exercise behaviours. Studies will also be needed to address the neural mechanisms underlying such improvements in exercise motivation.”

“Studies are currently underway in my laboratory and that of my husband/colleague, Dr. Daniel F. English, to examine the neural substrates of exercise motivation. we got that during sleep, the fastest rhythmic oscillations in the brain (called spike currents) predict exercise motivation. Specifically, these rapid oscillations in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in spatial navigation, determine how much an animal runs when awake.”

The study, “Mindfulness and its relationship to motivation and exercise experience“, written by Sarah Lynn, Medha Kumari Satyal, Alana J. Smith, Noor Tasnim, Daphne Gyamfi, Daniel F. English, Wendy A. Suzuki, and Julia C. Basso.

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