Feeling Disconnected? Your antidote might just be exercise!
There are likely very few of us who haven’t felt disconnected sometime during this pandemic. But even before the pandemic, there were big moments of disconnection in my life, like the first summer break in college when I didn’t go home and my friends did; and certainly my first maternity leave left me feeling disconnected from my career and co-workers; my frequently business trips left me feeling disconnected from my family and boy oh boy, when I left my career, there were days I felt disconnected from what I can only describe as my own “old” normal.
If I am honest with myself, one of the biggest periods of disconnection was with myself. It came when I was my busiest with the most people around me both professionally and personally. In my “never a free moment” life, I’d lost the connection between my own body and mind.
Crazy huh. I had social media, zoom calls, traveled around the world to work with smart, funny co-workers, kids to coach, an awesome husband and I still felt well, disconnected.
According to the National Institute on Aging, social connection is critical to thriving in life. Disconnection can be thought of as loneliness and/or social isolation. Loneliness is the distressing feeling of being alone or separated whereas social isolation is not having a social network of people to regularly interact with. You can be lonely and not isolated and you can be isolated and not lonely. Both are associated with higher risk of disease, depression and declines in brain health. We know that those in poor health are more likely to be lonely and those who are lonely are likely to be in poor health.
We can get disconnected from ourselves for a variety of reasons including stress, trauma and even from consistently being in go-do-don’t stop mode. Being disconnected from yourself is also linked to increased mental health and physical health risks.
There is a pretty amazing antidote to all this disconnection. Exercise. Mindful exercise, focused on integrated training and for maximum effectiveness - done with another human being or beings. Exercise creates connections within the body that help us create connections with ourselves AND with each other.
Making a Mind-Body Connection with Exercise
First and foremost - exercise creates the time and space to be focused on the body regardless of the type of training. But integrated training provides a framework for body awareness and results. Integrated training is an exercise training concept that incorporates all forms of training (flexibility, cardiorespiratory, core, balance, plyometric, resistance and speed/agility) into a progressive system of training.
In the first phase of integrated training, we’re focused on developing optimal neuromuscular efficiency, or improving the communication between our central nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. We are creating a connection between what the mind wants us to do and the proper way for the joints and muscles to do it. The training is focused on stabilization, balance and enhancing proprioception or the ability of the mind to “sense” body position and limb movement. This type of training improves our stability, coordination, posture, and balance. It helps prevent falls and gives us more confidence in our everyday movements.
This training isn’t high intensity, crank it out, go fast, go hard type of training. It requires you to slow down and connect your body and mind. My clients and I find that as we develop an increased awareness of our movement patterns and limitations, we are also able to better listen and connect to what our bodies need.
Making Social Connections with Exercise
Exercise when done with others, either as a team or with one other person creates social connection. That connection on it’s own helps stave off loneliness and isolation. To me, it is one of the biggest benefits of working with a trainer or joining a group class.
It is true that exercise done with a partner or group increases our motivation, accountability and even our desire to improve or push ourselves. But it also provides a huge dose of good old fashioned human connection. Even though it’s virtual, the conversations, laughs and stories my clients and I share each week create a feeling of connection and belongingness.
Even when done alone, exercise releases endorphins that help us bond with others. As the author of The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal put it in a recent NPR interview, exercise makes us a “more social” version ourselves. This more social version of ourselves is more likely to extend our social networks, stave off loneliness and take action toward connection.
You’ll see that theme reported in other studies as well. In the book Exercise for Mood and Anxiety by Otto & Smits, the authors identify studies that link exercise to less anger, distrust and stronger feelings of social integration. A 2017 paper in the Journal of Sports Economics called The Effects of Physical Activity on Social Interactions: The Case of Trust and Trustworthiness found that experiment participants who did 30 minutes of exercise prior to playing a game had increased trust and pro-social behaviors.
What a Beautiful Gift
If feeling disconnected from ourselves, exercise can hold the space for reconnecting our mind and body.
If feeling isolated or lonely, exercise can create internal feelings of connectedness which in turn provide a boost in our self-efficacy, to take action and make/accept social connections.
When we have social connections, we are more likely to have physical health.
When we have health and connection - we’re more likely to thrive, not just survive.
Has exercise help you stay connected? I'd love to hear your story in the comments.
We can connect in a variety of ways! Start by booking a free consultation. If you're feeling nervous about joining a class or starting at a gym, a personal training package might be just what you need to build your confidence.
Missing a loved one? I offer semi-private personal training. This virtual training is a great way to workout and stay connect with important women in your life - even if they live an hour, a city or even a state away. Find out more here.
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