Invest in your physical & mental health while improving your focus
The new year is just around the corner.
For many, it’s a time of new beginnings and new goals. It’s when we resolve to be more focused and productive. Resolutions are made, lessons learned the previous year are revisited, and plans are made to guarantee improvement in the new year.
If you’re like me, getting into shape is pretty high on that list of new year goals.
As a digital worker, it’s easy to spend hours on end working on projects without any thought for our physical posture or current state of fitness. Even standing desks (like the one I’m using now) don’t quite keep the pounds off as well as we’d hope.
Workouts sound like a chore, especially when we’re already so tired from sitting in our office chairs all day. Who has time to put in an hour or two at the gym after all the other daily professional and personal obligations?
Just thinking about exercise makes me want to retreat to the couch, cuddling up with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies.
But what if I told you we don’t have time not to incorporate mindful movement into our workday?
All of that contributes to a higher level of productivity during work hours.
The good news doesn’t end there. You don’t need to dedicate hours every day to lifting weights or running miles. Exercise doesn’t need to be boring, sweaty, and painful.
When you make movement a habit in your mindful productivity routine for each workday, you’ll experience increased levels of productivity, an improved mood, and better creativity.
Make this new year the year of building mindful habits that get you closer to the resolutions and goals you’ve set for yourself—starting with mindful movement.
What is mindful movement?
There’s a reason why we focus on the term “mindful movement” instead of workouts and exercise, although they may look similar in practice.
An intense weight-lifting session can be performed mindlessly with the single goal of getting reps in.
On the other hand, you can focus on moving and breathing in a way that keeps you in the present, making you feel strong and capable.
Mindful movement incorporates both mental and physical wellbeing by helping you check in with your body, reducing stress, and releasing tension as you move.
It’s easy for digital information workers to lose touch with the physical side of who they are as they go through busy workdays. Mindful exercise helps our minds reconnect with our bodies, improving our moods and focus levels.
Like any mindfulness practice (such as meditation), mindful movement guides us back to focusing on the here and now.
It’s as simple as being aware of what your body feels as it moves, paying attention to your breath, and focusing on the movements as you perform them.
Mindful movement translates to just about any physical activity you could imagine.
For the more laid-back, a thirty-minute walk in the park can be a great way to add movement into a mindful productivity practice.
For those who prefer more action, mindful movement can mean being intentionally aware of what your body feels like as you work out.
No matter what mindful movement looks like for you, it’s a crucial step toward reaching your full productivity potential.
The link between exercise and productivity
If you think you don’t have the time to move more, think again.
According to this study, workday exercise leads to more than 70% improvement in time management, along with a similar increase in work results.
Improves cognitive function
Regular exercise keeps you mentally sharp. Early research in mice suggests that physical activity prevents the slowing down of neuron production as we age. In human terms, people who exercise more might end up with more brain cells than sedentary peers down the road.
One of the most prevalent productivity sappers we face in work and life is forgetfulness. We spend time and effort trying to recall something we should have remembered—time and effort that could be spent productively elsewhere.
Studies demonstrate that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, improving our ability to retain information. Exercise is crucial for improving your brainpower.
Can exercise make you more creative? The answer seems to be yes! Regular physical activity appears to increase neuroplasticity, the ability of your brain to make new connections, learn things, and grow.
Here are just some of the cognitive benefits of regular exercise:
- Improved concentration
- Sharper memory
- Faster learning
- Prolonged mental stamina
- Enhanced creativity
Increases energy levels
As you move, your respiratory and circulatory systems get a boost, sending much-needed oxygen and nutrients to your brain, limbs, and organs.
It’s why you feel refreshed and more awake after a good workout session.
Even walking for thirty minutes over lunch break can lead to reduced fatigue and increased alertness in the afternoon hours, as this study suggests. You can finally win that battle over the stubborn afternoon slump!
Mindfully moving throughout the workday is one of the best ways to keep fatigue and burnout at bay during high-stress work periods.
Improves overall health
One of the greatest factors to a productive, mindful workday is your overall wellbeing.
This 2017 study on the “sit less, move more” approach to workplace performance points toward improved wellbeing and productivity when workers were engaged in physical activity throughout the workday.
A study in Denmark revealed that workers who exercised regularly experienced increased cardiovascular and muscular strength. This meant more productivity throughout the workday, and fewer lost workdays due to illness.
Regular physical exertion leads to improved heart health and better weight management and acts as a disease prevention strategy over the long term. Your immune system gets a boost each time you exercise, reducing the chances of you catching a cold (or something worse).
The conclusion? The healthier you are, the more likely you can create great work.
The psychological benefits
As if that’s not enough, there’s more to mindful movement than being healthier and more productive.
If you’ve ever had a bad morning or been overwhelmed by work pressures, you know just how much your mood and stress levels can directly affect your work success and productivity.
Thanks to its tension-releasing properties, mindful movement is powerful in reducing stress and improving your mood. Moving more tends to make you feel happier, which in turn makes you more productive and focused.
Benefits of building new movement habits at the start of the new year
The beginning of a new year can fill us with extra energy, making us more motivated than usual to do hard things and make significant lifestyle changes that bring us closer to our goals, professional or personal.
This urge for a new, better beginning is a positive power that could help cement mindful movement as part of a regular routine in your workday.
Use this New Year motivation burst to build new habits, such as incorporating outdoor movement sessions into your daily mindfulness routine.
Take it outdoors
I know it’s winter, and all you feel like during your downtime is curling up with a good book in front of a warm fire. In Canada where I am, winter mornings and evenings (when I usually work out) are far from forgiving.
But when we compare an indoor gym workout with moving outdoors, the benefits of exercising outdoors are much more appealing.
Here are just some of our favorite reasons for getting out there and moving:
- Going outdoors is free
- It feels less like a chore and more like play
- The ever-changing outdoor terrain challenges your body, making your workout more interesting
- Sunshine and fresh air acts as natural antidepressants, elevating your mood
- Moving in a natural environment stimulates your brain more than an indoor, as shown in this study
Find a movement buddy (or two)
As with any new habit or endeavor, there are going to be times when you simply don’t have the motivation to continue. It’s easy to let pressing deadlines, new shiny tasks, and personal obligations squeeze mindful movement out of your daily schedule.
That’s where having an exercise buddy or two can be the game-changer.
When the new year burst of enthusiasm fades away and the daily grind of responsibility after responsibility threatens your mindful movement habits, working out or taking walks with another person can provide much-needed accountability and motivation.
Tips for incorporating exercise into a mindful routine
The quickest way to not build a new habit is to think that it’s another to-do you’re obligated to fit into an already-overflowing schedule.
That’s how many of us tend to view workouts—it’s something you should do if you have the time. Thing is, none of us have open blocks of time each day for a new activity.
As a result, movement can get pushed aside. Here’s the best way forward for building movement into your mindful routine in ways that stick:
Schedule regular exercise sessions
Instead of making vague resolutions to get into shape, or promising yourself you’ll go for a run the next time you have a free hour, start approaching your workouts as if they’re part of your job description.
As you develop a regular mindful movement routine, your productivity and focus levels will improve.
You’ll finish each workday having done more and better work than you would have if you had been sedentary all day. Plus, you’d feel happier and more alive!
Find enjoyable and sustainable activities
Lifting weights at the gym isn’t your thing?
Here’s a secret: it’s not mine either.
There’s no point in doing exercise you hate doing just because it’s time for a workout. It’s hard to be mindful when cranking out reps that numb your mind. It’s also one of the fastest ways to destroy any motivation for regular mindful movement.
Instead, find something you sincerely enjoy doing and schedule time into your workday or workweek to participate in that activity.
This could be walking your dog, doing Parkour, or playing the drums in a death metal band. (Okay—maybe that last one doesn’t count as exercise. But you get the idea.)
If your chosen activity makes you move and engages your mind in ways you enjoy, it becomes that much easier to stick to a regular exercise schedule.
Keep it mindful
As you make exercise into a habit, it’s easy to fall back into approaching your walks and exercise reps as a chore.
If you feel yourself slipping into mindless reps or unfocused movement during exercise sessions, try using the following tips to make your movement sessions more mindful again.
- Remember why you’re doing this: Remind yourself why you want to be more mindful, and what made you decide to exercise more in the first place.
- Unplug: Don’t bring your phone with you into your next session. Be fully present, tapping into body sensations and paying attention to your breathing rhythm as you move.
- Note your surroundings: Look around, let your eyes take in the environment, and be aware of where you are and what’s happening around you.
Habits are powerful; but building new movement habits into your mindfulness routine may not be easy, especially at the start.
By beginning with achievable, tiny habits, doing activities you love, and approaching movement as part of your job instead of an extra chore to slog through, building mindful movement into your day-to-day is more than doable—it’s crucial to a mindfully productive workday.
Explore possibilities, stick to what you like and what you can do, and don’t forget to have fun!
This year: Move more, do more
Mindful movement is much more than cranking out reps in a smelly, noisy gym. It’s more than finally reaching that new year’s resolution of losing those extra pounds.
By incorporating physical activity into your daily routine as part of a mindfully productive practice, you’ll be investing in your physical and mental health while improving your productivity and focus.
With an investment of less than an hour a day, you’ll experience better moods, increased creativity, and more productivity.
What more can you ask for from a new habit for the new year?