Mindful Running: The Benefits of Mindful Exercise

Running is in fashion. This exercise, like many others, can be practiced in many ways. Today, we want to talk about the kind that also takes care of your mental health.
Mindful Running: The Benefits of Mindful Exercise
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 23 May, 2023

You might think that mindfulness is a practice that you carry out in silence and stillness, in a comforting and calm environment. If you understand mindfulness in this way, you may also believe that you can’t put it into practice while exercising. However, the good news is that you can actually run mindfully.

As a matter of fact, mindful running is a practice that any runner can benefit from. Indeed, mindfulness has several positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and better behavior regulation.

Furthermore, mindful running can positively affect certain psychological disorders. In fact, in a study published in Translational Psychiatry, combining guided meditation with running was found to reduce depression, increase cognitive control processes, and decrease ruminant thought patterns.

Below, we’ll take a look at what mindful running means, what its benefits are, and how to practice it.

Running Man
Mindful running increases well-being.

Mindful running

Mindfulness is awareness of the moment. When practicing mindfulness, you try to observe your thoughts, sensations, feelings, and the situation you’re in. The key is to instantly accept your thoughts, without judging, criticizing, or resisting them.

It means you don’t waste energy trying to impose unnecessary resistance but you open yourself to events, both internal and external, with kindness, affection, and a pinch of curiosity.

Similarly, when practicing mindful running, which is a way of practicing mindfulness, you run being aware of the moment, the environment, and your body.

You concentrate on the physical sensations, your breathing, the impact of your feet on the ground, your arm movements, etc. It means being connected both to the present and to the activity itself. In effect, being at one with the exercise.

Running in this way seeks to connect you with the world without distracting you. Some of your memories stop acting as ballast, as do the worries that future events may cause you. It involves putting your worries and stress aside and focusing on what’s happening in the moment.

The benefits of mindful running

Being a form of mindfulness, mindful running has the same benefits. It might even be suggested that its benefits are greater than mindfulness itself as they’re combined with the positive effects of physical exercise.

However, this hasn’t yet been tested. Nevertheless, what we do know is that mindfulness has favorable consequences for our health.

1. Increases emotional regulation

Mindfulness helps you identify and manage your feelings. Indeed, these types of practices can improve your emotional regulation skills. In fact, neuroimaging studies suggest that mindfulness training alters the areas of the brain that turn on and off in response to emotion-inducing stimuli.

2. Promotes cognitive flexibility

Mindful meditation can also give you greater cognitive flexibility. People who practice mindful meditation develop the ability of self-observation, which allows neurologically deactivation in automatic pathways, thus allowing present-moment information to be integrated in a new way (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

3. Improves attention

Attentional performance and cognitive flexibility are positively related to meditation practice and levels of mindfulness. For instance, in one study, in tests of attention, meditators were found to perform significantly better than non-meditators.

4. Reduce stress

There’s evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases negative affect and reduces stress. Furthermore, physical exercise protects against the negative emotional consequences of stress and has beneficial effects in healthy people (Childs & De Wit, 2014).

In this regard, a study conducted by the University of Southern California, involving 158 college students, concluded that mindful movement helps reduce anxiety and stress levels.

5. Improve memory

Mindfulness can also improve memory. In one investigation, participants either received mindfulness training or took a creative writing course. Memory tests noted that the participants who received mindfulness training showed the greatest reductions in proactive interference. This resulted in improvements to their short-term memory.

6. Strengthens relationships

There’s also evidence that mindfulness can positively impact people’s interpersonal relationships. One study found that people who were more conscientious also tended to be more accepting of their partner’s flaws and imperfections. This translates into more satisfying relationships.

Couple doing sports
Mindful running helps us to be present in everyday life, which implies a better understanding of others.

Mindful running can have enormous benefits, not only for your physical but also for your mental health. The development and strengthening of your cognitive faculties (memory, attention, mental flexibility) help you to better face difficulties and process the information you receive from the environment.

Running mindfully connects you more with yourself and your environment. By running in this way, you become at one with the activity. In other words, it’s no longer ‘the activity’ and ‘you’, but rather ‘activity-you’. In effect, you dissolve into it, entering a state of flow.

Strategies for mindful running

It’s easy to incorporate mindfulness into your life. Here are eleven tips to help you practice it.

  • Run outdoors, not on the treadmill.
  • Activate all your senses and leave your headphones at home.
  • Try some mindful breathing before you run.
  • Start slowly, don’t rush.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts.
  • Observe the sensations and emotions that arise in you.
  • Feel your feet making contact with the ground.
  • Enjoy the scenery.
  • Acknowledge and accept any discomfort that may arise.
  • Don’t judge yourself negatively if your thoughts wander.
  • Every time you get distracted from the exercise, bring your attention back to the present, with kindness and compassion. Don’t criticize yourself.

Finally, mindful running is training that bears fruit by constantly practicing it. There’s no need to worry about reaching your goal, it’s just about running in the here and now, in the present, and staying connected to what life offers you.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Childs, E., & De Wit, H. (2014). Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in physiology, 161.
  • Davis, D. & Hayes, J. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner#:~:text=Among%20its%20theorized%20benefits%20are,with%20kindness%2C%20acceptance%20and%20compassion.
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.