Posted on October 26, 2017 by Gordon Smith

Mindfulness is now widely recognised as an important tool for employee wellbeing. But what exactly is it and how can it help make for a better workout? We look at how to incorporate mindfulness into an exercise programme to get even better results.

In a world that is ‘always on’, it is getting harder and harder to switch-off and unwind, with work stress, social media and the Internet all being contributing factors.

In fact, over the past 3 years,  the ONS has recorded a deterioration in the mental wellbeing of the population as well as a decline in the proportion of people participating in sport once a week.

As a result, stress in the workplace is increasing. Since 2009, the number of sick days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24%.

Last year alone there were nearly half a million cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, which is why more and more employers are now focusing on a more holistic approach to employee wellbeing.

What is mindfulness?

One area in particular that businesses are increasingly focusing on is mindfulness at work, as it can reduce stress, improve concentration, resilience, employee relationships and overall wellbeing.

Mindfulness is a mental state that is achieved by focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your own feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is an awareness of what you are doing at that moment. Quite simply, it focuses on the ‘now’, as opposed to dwelling on the past or thinking about the future.

There is a perception that mindfulness is something that can only be done at the desk or in your lunch hour, but this is not the case as it can permeate through all aspects of employee time at work, and one of these is through exercise.

Mindfulness for a good workout

We spoke to Flora Mac Donald, who is an executive coach using mindfulness in her work, to tell us about the key benefits of a mindful workout. She says:

“When it comes to exercising on a regular basis, it can be hard to stay motivated all the time – we all have good days and bad days – and this is when we tend to cut corners or look to distract ourselves to get through the workout. This could take the form of reading a magazine, checking social media or messaging friends.

“These distractions can lead to a less-effective workout, and may leave you feeling as though it wasn’t a job well-done. A workout filled with distractions can potentially result in the body not being worked as hard as it could, or pushing it harder than it should go.”

A mindful workout, however, puts you right in the moment and is a great motivator; turn off the phone, switch off the music and, quite simply, listen to your body.

Mac Donald continues: “Running on a treadmill, for example, can be the perfect time to be mindful. Put yourself in the moment, get into a rhythm and tune into your body. Think about how you can work your body better or harder, or if muscles could be stretched a bit more. If you’re feeling tired or in pain, can you work through it? Simply staying with those feelings can, in turn, help you manage them better.

“Swimming is another great way to practice mindfulness. As it’s all about the technique of the stroke, it’s easy to focus on what you are doing and get into a rhythm of movement.”

Time constraints

If you’re pushed for time, then a rushed workout may not necessarily give you what you want from exercise: a sense of wellbeing, a rush of endorphins, or feeling as though you’ve made another positive step towards reaching your exercise or fitness goals.

However, Mac Donald believes that; “although we don’t live in a perfect world, mindfulness can help maximise that valuable workout time. Simply by listening to your body and being in the moment can help you use the time more efficiently and really get your body working hard in that timeframe.”

The corporate environment is fast-paced, but by simply slowing down for a bit and just enjoying being in the moment, it can transform an employee’s state of mind.

Benefits for employers

Although there are many ways to practice mindfulness at work, using a combination of exercise and mindfulness together is a way to improve mental health and wellbeing. Over time, it can boost morale and productivity.

Nick Sadler, Managing Director at motive8 says:

“Employee wellbeing is moving up the boardroom agenda, and it is a known fact that exercise and mindfulness are highly beneficial for employee productivity. Now’s the time for businesses to take action.”

Other ways to be mindful

Mindfulness can permeate throughout all aspects of an employee’s day at work and help them manage stress and anxiety. Flora Mac Donald gives us some more tips on taking a more mindful approach.

Flora Mac Donald’s mindfulness tips

Getting into a mindful state: Always tune into the body first and then focus on breathing.

How to get into the present: Notice four things around you and focus on what you can hear, see and feel.

When to practice: Besides exercise, there are many times of the day to be mindful, such as the daily commute or at the desk. Washing your hands is a great time for mindfulness. Focus on the action of washing your hands and focus on the feeling of water on your hands.

At motive8, we work with businesses to provide a range of health and wellbeing solutions for the workplace, from gym design, installation and maintenance, right through to personal trainers and coaches. We’re helping organisations lead the way in reducing workplace stress to create positive and productive environments to boost employee wellbeing.

Flora Mac Donald is an executive coach and consultant. With over 17 years experience, she has worked with some of the world’s leading organisations at every level of seniority.

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