Posted on July 29, 2019 by Josh Puttock

Mindfulness is now widely recognised as an important tool for wellbeing in sport, at every level. But what exactly is mindfulness and why does it benefit our exercise? Below we are going to discuss how to incorporate mindfulness into an exercise programme and why this can help achieve even better results. We also speak to Flora Mac Donald – Mindfulness Coach – about why it is so important to look at our mental health.

The modern world

In an age that has humans constantly plugged in to social media, phones and laptops – it is getting increasingly more difficult to switch-off and unwind. In fact, in the past 3 years alone, relevant studies have shown a deterioration in the mental wellbeing of the UK population as well as a decline in the proportion of people participating in sport weekly.

15.4 million Working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18

As a result, stress in the professional world is increasing too. In 2017/2018, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, which is why more and more employers are now focusing on a more holistic approach to employee wellbeing. Keeping your staff happy mentally does wonders for productivity.

Businesses are now increasingly focusing on mindfulness at work, as it can reduce stress, improve concentration, resilience, employee relationships and overall wellbeing.

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.

Mindfulness explained

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 ‘present’, 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 and exercise with Flora Mac Donald

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.”

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 mindfulness.

Flora’s top 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. 

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.