Runner’s Mind-Heart-Body Connection

Sep 7, 2022
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Runners, especially those who run long distances, are keenly aware that their “I can” mindset keeps them going when their body is ready to say, “I quit.” Some runners report hitting the wall at about 20 miles when stored energy in muscles is depleted. What can you do then? Here are some suggestions from for changing the focus from your body to your mind.

Shift to an internal focus:  Use positive self-talk, focus on breathing, or repeat a motivating mantra.

Recommit to your goal: Try bargaining with yourself for short distances. “I’ll just run another minute or two or one more block before I walk.” This “can-do” mindset may give your body and mind time to rally and help you reach your goal.

Recalibrate: If neither of these strategies work, recalibrate you pace and your goal. Try slowing your pace, combine running and walking or walk rather than giving up all together. After slowing your pace and drinking some fluids you may be able to make it across the finish line.

This mind-body connection is essential for performing your best. According to the Psychological Health, Well-Being and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, the mind-body (and heart) are interconnected and interdependent. The runner’s state of mind significantly impacts physical performance and heart health. Negative psychological states, including chronic stress, social stressors, chronic anger and hostility, depression, anxiety, and pessimism have been associated with higher cardiovascular risk, lack of self-care and poor health outcomes. While a sense of well-being is associated with cardiovascular benefits, wellness and being more active.

How can you develop a strong mind-heart-body connection to perform your best?

You likely spend months training for your next race by increasing distance and time running. What psychological factors can you cultivate to perform your best and increase you sense of well-being?

Optimism is a sense of hopefulness and confidence that things will work out well in the future and anticipating the best possible outcomes. Optimism is associated with more physical activity and other healthy behaviors (not smoking, healthy food choices, better sleep quality and higher heart health scores). Women with higher optimism had slower progress of plaque buildup in their arteries. Research shows that higher levels of optimism were associated with 35% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease events.  An optimistic mindset can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and reach your fitness goals.

Strategies to boost optimism: take negativity breaks and reframe with positive self-talk and imagine your “best self” and “best performance.”

Sense of Purpose – Similar to optimism, people with a greater sense of purpose have more favorable lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors (more physical activity, less smoking, etc.) It has also been associated with better heart health, longevity and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

Strategies to develop your sense of purpose: set clear goals for yourself when you train, reflect on what is important to you and why, and model someone who has a strong sense of purpose.

Happiness is a state of positive well-being and contentment. Happy individuals tend to sleep better, exercise more, eat better, and not smoke. Running makes us happy and happiness makes us better runners.

Strategies for increasing happiness: count your blessings, practice gratitude and do random acts of kindness.

Mindfulness is being in the moment without judging your thoughts, emotions and actions. Mindfulness has been associated with greater physical activity levels, not smoking, more mindful eating, fasting glucose level <100 mg/dL (less likely to develop diabetes), and lower body weight. Mindfulness is also associated with less stress, more compassion and higher levels of well-being.

Strategies for becoming more mindful: focus on one thing at a time, spend time in nature, be in the moment and clear your mind of clutter. When you run, just be in the moment and run!

Developing a positive mental attitude can give you an edge and improve your running performance. By understanding the mind-heart-body connection and taking care of your whole self, you will be ready for your next run and all life has to offer!

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