Work Your Mind for a Healthy Body

by Michelle Fiscus. 0 Comments

Your mind has the potential to be a powerful tool in your health. This is more than just a little positive thinking; certain mental practices can actually suppress disease causing pathways, while other techniques can increase your physical strength.

Relaxation techniques like mediation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer create physical changes in your body’s immune function, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion. That discovery comes from a new study spearheaded by the Mind/Body Medicine Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study enrolled a group of healthy adults with no experience in relaxation techniques. They went through a “control” session by listening to a 20 minute health education CD. Blood samples were taken before they listened to the CD, immediately after and 15 minutes later.

Then the same group was enrolled in an eight week relaxation training course. Again, participants listened to a 20 minute CD, but this time it was designed to elicit the relaxation response as part of their daily practice. Blood work was taken at the same intervals. The researchers also played the relaxation CD and took blood samples from a second group of people who had been practicing relaxation techniques anywhere from 4 to 25 years.

The blood test results revealed relaxation techniques created positive changes in energy metabolism while suppressing pathways known to have a role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer. The expression of genes involved in insulin pathways was also significantly altered. The changes were even more dramatic in the group who had been practicing relaxation techniques for more than 4 years.

It doesn’t matter which form of relaxation technique you chose. The group with a history of practicing relaxation techniques use various forms including mediation, yoga, and prayer but those differences were not reflected in the analyzing the blood results.

Not only can your min bring about physiological changes, it can also increase muscle strength. Bishop University in Quebec is just one institute of several that studied mental training.

For this study, male athletes were divided into three groups and gave them guidelines to increase the strength of their hip flexor muscles. Researchers chose this muscle because it is one that can’t be easily exercised while doing everyday activities or using free weights.

The first group performed physical training using a weight machine designed for the hip flexor. The second group mentally practiced the exercise (as in imagined performing it using increasing amounts of weight). The third group did nothing: their hip flexor was not physically or mentally exercised.

At the end of two weeks, the physical group increased its strength by 28.3%. The group who did nothing saw almost no difference. But the men who mentally practiced the exercise saw a strength increase of 23.7%.

This research and other studies like it are not excuse you from working out, but to empower you that by thinking positively you can really change your physical outcome. Instead of talking yourself out of trying an exercise at a certain weight, visualize yourself pushing through a plateau and then attempt the exercise.

If you are stressed out, tired, and feeling ill… try some relaxation techniques: whether it’s yoga, meditation, or something else. You might find your mind can help heal your body. While it may all sound too good to be true, you have nothing to lose by committing to some mental practices for 4-8 weeks and measuring any physical changes.

Let us know if you have any success! Or, if you have another fitness related question, send an email the author at


Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.

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