By Dr. Alison Chen, ND
What if you could think your way to a better body? Is it even possible?
It might be.
There’s no getting around the fact that muscles need to stretch, the heart needs to pump, and the body has to move.
However, your mind is a powerful force when it comes to your physical body and can help you achieve your personal health goals with proper training. So perhaps, with the help of some healthy habits and mindfulness training, you can think yourself to flatter abs!
Think about it this way: On a conscious level we tell our bodies to get to the gym, what foods to eat, or to go to bed.
Our unconscious mind also influences our actions and physiological makeup and can be just as powerful when it comes to our health and performance.
The Power of Suggestion
Just the thought of sour pickles can make your mouth salivate.
Does your nose crinkle when talking about dirty diapers?
Did you know that holding a pen between your teeth horizontally will create a smile expression that can actually make your mood more positive?
The mindset of an athlete, no matter what level, must be trained like the body, both consciously and unconsciously, in order to optimally achieve their fitness and performance goals.
Endurance trains the heart, resistance trains the skeletal muscles, and mindfulness trains the mind.
It is possible to reframe your thoughts to hep power yourself to better help.
Here are some habits to build a full body and mind workout that will have you thinking your way to fitness.
7 Mindfulness Exercises to Think Your Way Thin
When it comes to training the mind, few activities have as much influence as meditation.
Clearing our minds and regulating our breathing works not only to produce a sense of calm and relaxation, but also has potent physiological effects such as promoting muscle repair and increasing lung capacity (1).
Changing the way in which we breathe during meditation, such as with diaphragmatic breathing, helps to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, without which our adrenals wouldn’t recuperate from daily stressors (2).
Meditating is a simple way to help train your mind to influence your body and is not strictly for the yogi master. There are any number of ways to meditate; the when and how to is up to you. You can meditate before bed, after a workout, or before an important competition.
Remembering to take the time to breathe and center yourself will only foster better physiological health.
2. Touching Others
Perhaps you don’t want to hug the person next to you on the treadmill after a sweaty run, but contact with others can improve your physiological health by altering brain cell signaling, improving stress, and boosting your overall well-being (3).
The hormone oxytocin is released in response to low-intensity stimulation of the skin, such as with gentle touch, and it has been shown to produce feelings of well-being and have anti-stress effects (3).
These effects are due to the modulation of dopamine and serotonin, your reward and feel-good neurotransmitters. Oxytocin can also reduce sensitivity to pain as well as decrease anxiety.
So start hugging and kissing one another more often, although maybe shower first.
3. Questioning Your Perceptions
How we see our world influences how we think, feel, and act towards ourselves, situations, and other people.
Are you the type of person who gravitates towards gossip? Do you feel past events limit your personal goals? Do you feel like you have bad luck?
If so, you might be preselecting to acknowledge and remember events in your life more negatively, opposed to a more accurate representation of reality.
Instead, choosing to see your world in a positive light helps train the mind and body to accomplish goals that might have once seemed out of reach.
Recent studies show self-induced changes in mood can increase serotonin production, positively affecting cell signaling in the body (4).
Keeping a gratitude journal is a one way to promote positive thinking, as it helps reinforce positive memories and experiences. Likewise, thinking about things you are thankful for first thing in the morning can train your mind and body to have a positive perspective.
4. Setting Positive Intentions
While I might have the intention of getting up before the sun rises to head out for a run, if I don’t actually do it no amount of thinking will equal the effect of my foot on pavement.
We all know that thoughts do not always lead to action; however, setting daily positive intentions can increase productivity, happiness, mindfulness, and overall optimism, getting you closer to your specific health goals.
A study found that dispositional optimism improved recovery from surgery and improved coping efforts (5). Optimism was also associated with a faster rate of physical recovery during hospitalization and rate of return to normal activities.
Finally, there is a strong positive association between level of optimism and post-surgical quality of life. Having a positive outlook can influence our ability to bounce back after injury or upset, helping us get back into the game.
Being able to see the positive in situations is not only important in stressful times but can also lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation (7). In addition, gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.
5. Accomplishing Goals
Humans have a natural desire for immediate reward, whether conscious or not. Most of us feel good when we accomplish or complete something and this can activate our brain dopamine pathways, which play a role in feelings of reward, pleasure, and motivation.
For example, while you might want to lose some weight, achieving this goal can be a tedious journey, without immediate payoff.
By breaking up large tasks (lose 20 pounds in months) into smaller, more manageable steps (lose 2 to 5 pounds a week) we can manipulate the dopamine reward pathways, helping to increase motivation, success and positive associations, to turn your fitness goals into reality. (7)(8).
6. Eating Good Foods for Good Moods
We know that our physiological body is influenced by the quality of food we eat, and this is no different for the health of our minds. Eating plenty of healthy, organic produce, meats, and healthy fats is crucial to total body health and fitness.
Of specific interest is L-tyrosine, an amino acid precursor to dopamine that is involved in cognitive control and creativity (9). The body also uses this amino acid to form epinephrine and norepinephrine, important adrenal hormones.
Try including other mood-altering and cognitively supportive foods, supplements, and herbs into your diet including fish and coconut oil, magnesium, phosphatidylcholine, and Gotu kola.
Even if you’re not doubled over in a sincere deep, face-cramping belly laugh you can still get a lot of positive chemical release with a chuckle.
Laughter improves immune function, increases pain tolerance, decreases stress response (aka cortisol release), and lowers longer-term anxiety based on the Profile of Mood States, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Depression Inventory-II (10) (11).
Even smiling more can have a positive benefit on the body. Try this simple exercise, I do it all the time:
- Hold a chopstick or pen in the mouths horizontally to produced a Duchenne smile
Mindful Exercises That Matter
Just thinking about being healthier won’t make you healthier, but the power of your mind cannot be understated as motivation and intention are what fuels any great athlete.
When you learn to team your mind and body together to enhance your personal fitness, health, and performance, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll be able to accomplish.
Dr. Alison Chen ND is the author of “What Your Poo Says About You”, co-creator of the Naturopathic Doctor Development Center, and winner of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine’s Humanitarian award. Her background in competitive gymnastics, volunteer work in Africa, and honors degree in biology give her a well-rounded view to living well. Originally from Toronto, Dr. Chen travels the world with her partner. You can learn more at www.dralisonchen.com/insider.