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Fitness Gets Mental

Discover the Cerebral Aspect of Exercise

Written by David Dorian Ross
People continually ask me what I mean by "mental fitness." What's the "mind" part of mind-body fitness? It's a good question - one that more people should ask, because so many people use the phrase "mind-body fitness." Unless you can explain the phrase, it is meaningless and misleading.

Most people associate mind/body fitness with exercises that calm or focus the mind, like yoga or Pilates. Some people explain it in terms of making a mind-muscle connection. The official definition of mind-body fitness is "exercise done with an inwardly directed focus."

At Full Circle Fitness, we use a much more direct and practical definition. We believe that achieving health and wellness goals requires paralleled mental and physical training. Most people who work out are familiar with physical training to increase strength, flexibility and endurance. But they lack mental strength, flexibility and endurance.

The mental training at Full Circle Fitness focuses on three areas:

1) Unconscious Patterns. By our mid 30s, most of us have developed our own unique and unconscious bad habits of posture and movement. Chiropractors and physical therapists call them "compensation patterns," which force our bodies to work, even at the sacrifice of proper stability and alignment.

Our physical patterns reflect our mental training. We all have compensation patterns of thoughts, emotions and perception. They allow us to "get by" in life, even at the sacrifice of our vitality, compassion or inner flow. Just like physical therapists can correct the body's bad habits, a mind-body trainer uses specific physical exercises to re-train poor mental habits.

2) Stress Management. Stress is a little like the weather: all talk and no action. While we can't eliminate stress, we can change our reactions to stress, clinically called the "stress response." Typical reactions include elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, lowered body temperature, muscle spasms, etc. Stress responses accumulate over time until the smallest event sends us over the edge with an exaggerated response (think road rage). Some stress responses become permanent, like hypertensions and chronic neck, back and shoulder pain.

Since we can't eliminate stress, the healthy solution balances our stress responses with relaxation responses. These occur in moments of great calm - slowed heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and feelings of warmth and ease. Great athletes use relaxation response to "get in the zone," as do experienced meditators. A mind-body trainer teaches you techniques to replace stress responses with relaxation responses.

3) Will Power. A final example of mental training is mental endurance, or will power. At the gym, have you ever started out to do 10 reps of an exercise and then stopped at nine? Or repeated all 10 but let your form slacken? Research shows that one extra rep does not increase physical benefits, but the mental-spiritual benefits can be enormous. To do that one extra rep, to run that last ? mile, to just hit the gym when you'd rather stay home is an act of will. Every time you use will power, it strengthens your mind. You learn self-mastery to make choices that aren't always easy or popular, but which support your goals and personal values. Mind-body trainers design your workout program to lead you through a series of physical-mental challenges to increase your mental endurance.

Here's a final thought: fitness and wellness are two different goals. Fitness involves optimizing performance; wellness involves developing lifestyle habits that slow aging and prevent illness, injury and chronic pain. But with both fitness and wellness, you can't isolate the body and reach your goals. The mind is part of the package. If you want a fit, healthy body, you must include mental training. Has your trainer put you on a mental fitness program?
Article Reviewed: January 15, 2016
Copyright © 2015 Healthy Magazine

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