November 07, 2018
Finding the motivation to do, well, anything when it’s cold and dark out is a challenging feat, making coming around to the idea of a workout nearly impossible. But a new study suggests there are techniques you can take up to ensure your dedication to fitness — like meditation — no matter the season.
According to the New York Times, a study released earlier this year that, on average, people move 11 minutes less daily in winter than they do in summer, and if someone is only active for about 30 minutes a couple times a week, this is a substantial drop off.
There’s not much research on how to combat this season-driven exercise decline, which isn't helping to fight the obesity epidemic here in the United States.
That said, a new study out of Iowa State University that endeavored to experiment ways to keep people motivated to workout as a harsh midwestern winter approaches.
To begin, researchers focused on having people start a regular, structured exercise routine or learn mindfulness meditation. The research team, who was already separately researching the effects of exercise and mindfulness on the risk of colds, suspected that both programs might alter how people felt about their bodies. This, they hypothesized, could sway whether or not they remained active throughout the year.
Researchers gathered 49 men and women who were healthy, but inactive, and had never meditated before and began by tracking their activity for one week. Participants were then randomly assigned to start exercising, meditating or, for the control group, to continue with their inactive lives. This examination lasted for two months, September through early November.
The exercise group was challenged to complete between 20 and 40 minutes of walking or jogging and a weekly group fitness class at the university. The mindfulness group followed a standard mindfulness instruction program, focusing on attending to the present moment and checking in on how your body feels. They practiced body scans and mindful walking, in addition to the usual quiet, seated meditations and a weekly on-campus meet-up.
Toward the end of the study, in early November as winter was quickly approaching, each group strapped on an activity monitor for another week. Oh, and they were under the guise that the study was looking at colds, not activity, as to not skew the data.
After reviewing the data, researchers found that the meditation and exercise groups began moving slightly less as it got colder, on average about six minutes less than they had in warmer months, while the control group was found to move a whopping 18 minutes less than they had during summer. That’s seven minutes more than what the previous study suggested!
These findings took the researchers by surprise. "They had expected the exercise program to get people familiar with and interested in the idea of moving, but we did not expect the mindfulness training to have the effect that it had,” says Jacob Meyer, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State, who conducted the study with Bruce Barrett and other colleagues, told the Times.
The research team can’t quite say why both meditation and exercise equally kept study participants active during the colder months, but Meyer suspects that “each program may have increased people’s sense of integration with their bodies and nudged them to be somewhat more aware of whether, how and when they moved,” The Times reports.
So, as you begin to feel your exercise motivation waning this season, you might want to pick up your meditation pillow or download a guided meditation app to your phone.