Exercise is very good for the brain. As a personal trainer I am always emphasising the benefits of physical exercise to mood and brain functioning. People are used to balancing; standing on one leg, walking up steps, or even standing on a ladder we balance our bodies without even thinking. However, just balancing the body requires large amounts of brain power. One study suggested that balancing our bodies through complicated movements required as much brain power as learning a second language. It is the intensity of brain activity generated during exercise which seems to be so good for the brain, very similar to exercising the muscles. However, there are ways to gain even greater benefits for the brain from exercise.

A personal trainer has a responsibility to ensure that the client is doing the appropriate exercises correctly, but the personal trainer must also be aware that the client is fully engaged with the exercises. This means that the client is fully concentrating on the exercises, the client is not thinking about work, what they are going to do after training, in short they need to be mindful. Mindfulness is about being fully focussed on what you are doing now and, by implication, being aware to a level that is not usually obtained. An example helps. Often we can operate on automatic pilot, you might be driving a car and be completely oblivious of changing gears or changing lanes. As an exercise in mindfulness I will ask people to eat an apple and describe not only the taste, but the texture of the apple, the smell and the sound of biting into the apple, to fully focus on the eating of the apple.

When someone is exercising it is a little bit harder for them not to conscious of what they are doing, however extraneous thoughts can still intrude. So as a personal trainer I ask people to concentrate on all aspects of their experience, if they are running the feel of the wind on their skin, the rhythm of their breathing etc. This is mindfulness.

The final stage is called flow. In a state of the flow the person is completely oblivious of time and their surroundings; they are fully committed to the exercise and are performing at their maximum. Now it is difficult to obtain flow and remain in flow. However once a person has achieved flow it is a wonderful experience.

The advantage of mindfulness obtained through exercise is that once a person understands the concept of mindfulness it can be applied to many aspects of daily living.