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Exercise and the Mind/Body connection

Exercise and the Mind/Body connection

  1. 1.      Introduction

            Exercise and mental health go hand in hand. It was once said “exercise not only has power over the body but it also has power over the mind as well”.  That is a very accurate statement; exercise creates numerous benefits to mental health including improved depression symptoms, reduced anxiety, reduced stress levels, and improved self confidence and self worth. On the other hand the mind can also be very influential on exercise performance. Through the use of visualization, meditation, and positive statements subjects are able to improve their exercise and sports performances. Another way the mind is beneficial to improving exercise and sports performance is by limiting four important factors that often hold subjects back from reaching their full athletic potential. The four factors are limited self confidence, fear of failure, destructive criticism, and one pointed attention. Creating a better understanding of how exercise interacts with the mind body connection can greatly improve both mental health and athletic/exercise performance.


  1. 2.      Exercise Benefits on Mental Health

            It is well known that exercise provides participants with a wide variety of physical benefits. However, exercise can also be a valuable way to improve mental health as well.    

  1. a.      Depression

      Clinical depression is a major health problem that affects 5 to 10 percent of the American population (Taylor).  One of the major issues associated with the treatment of clinical depression deals with the negative side effects of anti-depressants that are prescribed.  A better way to fight depression might be through exercise. A study conducted by James A Blumenthal, PHD compared the effects of exercise to anti-depression medication. The study took 156 men and women who had Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and randomly assigned them to a program of aerobic exercise, anti depressant medication or combined exercise and medication. The results showed that people who were given the medication saw results faster however, after the end of the sixteen weeks of treatment exercise was equally effective in reducing depression among participants with MDD (Blumenthal).  This proves that exercise can be used as an alternative to the dangerous anti-depressant medication or as a means to replace the need for an anti-depressant.

  1. b.      Anxiety

      Physical activity and exercise has also been shown to decrease anxiety (Taylor).  Experimental studies of both acute and chronic exercise of vigorous intensities have consistently shown a reduction in anxiety. One study conducted by W. P Morgan on acute physical activity showed promising results. In the study a series of events involving males and females was conducted. The purpose was to evaluate the state anxiety prior to, immediately following, and 20-30 minutes following exercise. He found that state anxiety decreased following acute physical activity below base line for people with normal anxiety as well as clinically anxious individuals (Morgan).

  1. c.       Stress

      Everyday life can cause tremendous stress on the body. One positive way to combat stress is through exercise.  Exercise can help reduce stress a couple different ways. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling ( Another way exercise can help reduces stress is to allow one to focus on their body rather than their problems.  After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do (

  1. 3.      Mental effects on Exercise/ Athletic performance

            The mind is a powerful tool. Athletes who are able to effectively use their mind have more success than those who cannot. “Studies have shown that between 70 and 85 percent of successful and unsuccessful athletes can be identified using general psychological measures of personality structure and mood state…” (Raglin). Athletes with poor to average mental health should on the whole, perform worse than athletes with good mental health (Raglin).

  1. a.      Mental Imagery (Visualization)

      Mental imagery also known as visualization is defined as experience that resembles perceptual experience, but which occurs in the absence of the appropriate stimuli for the relevant perception (Plessinger). In short, any act of imagining an action without physical practice is called imagery.

      In a study done by Gershon Tenenbaum on the effectiveness of mental approaches to improve strength, one of the studies had subjects perform a form of visualization before performing a weight lifting exercise. Five minutes before the strength test he had the subjects visualize their best performance before they actually preformed the test. The results showed a significant increase in peak force and peak power by the subjects who used the visualization technique compared to the control group (Tenenbaum).

  1. b.      Positive Statements

      In the same study by Tenenbaum the participants were also asked to use positive statements in an effort to look into the effects it had on strength. The subjects had to come up with two positive statements that were related to the resistance exercise they were going to be tested on and write them down. The results were greater than expected in both peak force and peak power (Tenenbaum).  This shows how important and powerful thinking positive is to performing at optimal levels.

  1. c.       Meditation/ Four obstructions

      Meditation is the beginning of the body mind mastery. Body mind masters have learned in sport and life to focus their attention on the present moment (Millman). Patricia Carrington, author of The Book of Meditation, wrote, “Meditation tends to reduce anxiety levels, making the mediator calmer, less worried and more quietly self-confident.” This is obviously useful attributes for an athlete who is about to enter a contest or exercise session.  Relaxation and ease of mind can be helpful in almost any undertaking, but in sports it is important that the person not be so relaxed that he stops caring and loses sight on the task at hand.

      Andy Rimol conducted a study on the effectiveness of meditation in motor performance. He took three groups of college students; the first two groups have been practicing meditation for at least five months and the third group of students was non mediators. Rimol tested the subject’s motor skills through using a rather demanding game called the “Labyrinth game” (Carrington).  The subjects were given a “pre test” and a post test. Before the “post test” the first group was asked to relax for twenty minutes but not meditate. The second group was asked to meditate and the third group was asked to just relax for twenty minutes. He found that right from the start the mediators scored significantly higher than the non mediators both on the pre and post tests (Carrington).         

According to Dan Millman there are four obstructions that plague most athletes. Overcoming these mental obstructions is a key to improve athletic performance.

  1. Limited Self- Concept

            Your progress in life tends to consistently follow your expectations. If you expect to do poorly, you will be less motivated and most likely you will do poorly. By having your expectations real low it is almost impossible to be successful. This deals with self concept. Without a high self concept it is difficult to become successful.

  1. Fear of Failure

            Failure is a natural part of the learning process. People who are afraid to fail will never take enough chances to be successful or will they have the experience necessary to succeed.

  1. Destructive self criticism

            There are two kinds of criticism, constructive and destructive. Constructive criticism is more conducive to success rather than destructive criticism. Self criticism is a learned habit pattern that usually starts in childhood when children receive destructive criticism. It is important to not be too hard on yourself in athletics.

  1. One pointed attention

            There is tremendous power in total attention to the matter at hand. The most successful athletes are able to focus on the task that is in front of them. Too many people try to balance a bunch of different things instead of focusing all of their attention on what they are doing.