Multi-tasking Exercise Myths

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With all the amazing discoveries about the brain lately, we can easily overlook one simple fact – the brain does not work alone! Every cell in the body is an outpost of the brain. Daniel Siegel calls it our “embodied brain.” When we talk about changes in the brain, we can’t leave out the two-way connection between the brain and the body.

As we discussed, exercise is simply taking time out of the day to practice skills we want to be fit for well-being. Getting the most out of that practice means we use as much of our embodied brain as possible. What happens when we strength train while watching TV or stretch while surfing social media?  From brain research, we know that multitasking is not really doing two things at once; the brain is just switching back and forth between tasks quickly.  In the end, this drains energy, reduces the effectiveness of our practice, and does not save time.

Activity monitors are another possible distraction from mindful movement. When we look to an activity monitor to tell us how we slept or how much to move, we miss out on using our more accurate internal guide and building trust in our embodied brain.   Activity monitors are simply a reminder to pay attention to what the body needs to be well.  

For example, when we ‘try to get more steps’ by multitasking movement with other activities, we miss out on the true purpose of this goal. Stress and stillness both increase inflammation, the precursor for many diseases. When we multitask movement, we can perpetuate the stress response instead of switching it off. Taking movement breaks lets air out of the balloon, switching the nervous system from alarm to recharge mode. The true goal of moving more during the day is to decrease inflammation accumulation caused by stillness and by stress.  

Stress also limits our ability to make logical, healthy choices when life’s pressures build. Using mindful movement to get back to recharge mode ultimately has greater impact on our ability take care of ourselves than multitasking movement in order to simply achieve a daily step or calorie burning goal.

The myths are:

  • we can train the brain and the body separately
  • quantity of movement is more important that quality
  • when it comes to exercise we need to “just do it”,  just burn more calories

The reality is:

  • our brain and body work together to restore well-being when we pay attention to both
  • moving mindfully provides the full benefits for our embodied brain

The lure of multitasking movement is great. I would be ignoring my value of authenticity if I led you to believe I never multitask when moving.  The message here is not that we “should” be mindful every time we move, but that being mindful when we move is a key resource in our quest to be well now.

Be Well Now,

Janet

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