Improve Your Mind-Body Connection by Mixing Up Your Exercise

3 tips to make the most of your workouts

Shira Miller
In Fitness And In Health
6 min readJun 8, 2021

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Photo by Benjamin Wedemeyer on Unsplash

You might not know who 18th Century English poet William Cowper is right off the bat. But chances are good you’ve heard an adage he originated — “variety is the spice of life.” Those words ring true to this day. No matter how much you might love eating peanut butter, binging episodes of Schitt’s Creek or watching baseball games, doing that same activity every single day can diminish your enjoyment over time.

That proverb certainly applies to exercise routines. Do you easily run six days a week, but consider lifting kettlebells or taking the time to stretch to be as fun as a root canal? Perhaps you never miss a Yoga class but can’t be bothered with anything resembling cardio.

Whatever the case, you are missing out. Doing different kinds of exercises doesn’t just help your body; it improves your overall well-being.

“When it comes down to physical fitness as a whole, there are five components that should be addressed,” explained Certified Personal Trainer Chantrell Antoine Parker, PhD. “They include cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition.”

Parker says there are physical and cognitive reasons to do different exercises versus the same thing every day. Take strength training for example.

“When you are doing the same exercise movements, lifting the same weights, for the same number of reps, your body will physically stop responding because the muscles are no longer being challenged or stimulated,” she said.

As a result, you can hit a plateau, lose muscle definition, or get bogged down by boredom. Parker notes that doing the same thing over and over again can also weaken the mind-body connection.

“From a cognitive standpoint, exercising causes the brain to fire neurotransmitters that carries out signals throughout the body,” she added. “More specifically, those cognitive functions are stimulated when exercise requires complex motor movements. So in order to keep the mind-body connection going strong, we need to partake in new movement patterns that keep us challenged.”

Hey, I’ve experienced this first-hand. Step aerobics was at its height when I first became active in the early 1990’s. I loved donning my spandex and colorful sweatbands, taking four or five classes a week. That first wave of exercise helped me shed fifty extra pounds over the course of 15 months.

But years into this practice, I started having repetitive usage injuries, like multiple sprained ankles. What was once fun started getting predictable and boring. Instead of being challenged, it became a chore. I began exploring other activities like weight training and spin classes. Looking for tweaks and ways to keep things fresh became my norm.

Decades into my workout habit, I’ve got to make regular accommodations to keep my body going. My knees are not great; I was diagnosed with chondromalacia patellae, a.k.a “Runner’s Knees,” about 15 years ago. Near daily stretching is important to prevent plantar fasciitis, which has taken me out hard in the past. But now, in my mid-fifties, I’m actually approaching the best shape of my life because I alternate fitness activities.

Building muscle mass is the foundation of everything for me. Here’s a look at an average week of activity, most of which is accomplished in the morning before starting my workday:

· Monday: 45 minutes of strength training with a personal trainer, plus 10–20 minutes of cardio intervals. Stretching.

· Tuesday: 30–45 minutes of machine-based cardio, like the elliptical or step mill machine. Stretching.

· Wednesday: 45 minutes of strength training with a personal trainer, plus 10–20 minutes of cardio intervals. Stretching.

· Thursday: Rest day.

· Friday: Pilates reformer class at lunch. Sometimes I add in 30 minutes of cardio in the morning depending on how my body feels.

· Saturday: 50 minute AMP Dance Party spin class plus 30–40 minutes worth of strength training on my own. Stretching.

· Sunday: 60 minute cardio walk with a friend. Stretching.

I’ve seen a lot of upside from this approach. It makes me feel good and the positive burst of energy helps fuel my day. Healthy weight management is a nice benefit, but not the main focus anymore. Plus exercise makes me smarter. I think more clearly and process complex situations and challenges faster on days with regular movement.

No wonder some experts, like Ron Friedman, Ph.D., an award-winning psychologist, and the author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, espouses that regular exercise is critical to thriving professionally.

“Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves — a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work — it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself,” Friedman noted in his work. “The alternative, which involves processing information more slowly, forgetting more often, and getting easily frustrated, makes us less effective at our jobs and harder to get along with for our colleagues.”

Looking to shake some things up in your exercise routine and improve your overall well-being? Here are three tips that may be helpful:

Focus on one new challenge at a time.

Concentrating on a specific practice — rather than trying to add four or five new things at once — can yield great results. “Instead of having someone do a variety of different exercises, I recommend learning one new technical exercise,” explains Parker. The Senior Fitness Specialist clearly takes her own advice. She recently challenged her fitness by learning how to swim.

“In the beginning I felt extremely awkward because physically my body had to learn how to move horizontally, and cognitively I needed my arms doing one thing while my legs were doing something different,” shared Parker.

“Ironically I looked like a flopping fish out of water while I was in water,” she continued. “With each new stroke I learned, the muscles in my body were joyfully sore from being exposed to new forms of movement. Yet at the same time, I felt extremely confident in my body’s coordination of movement through the water.”

Have fun.

When you enjoy an activity, you look forward to doing it. Mix up your workouts by looking for experiences that sound like a great time. Consider what kind of activities make your heart sing.

Let’s say that dancing tops your list, but opportunities even before the COVID-19 pandemic were limited mostly to weddings and Bar Mitzvah parties. Maybe it is time to check out Hip Hop or Zumba classes online or in person. If you’ve always been enthralled with the glamour of ballroom dancing, taking lessons can pump up your fitness while you are having a blast.

Love Cirque du Soleil- type performances? Explore aerial yoga classes. Don’t feel like you have to limit your imagination, as more online classes and tutorials have become widely available in recent times.

Listen to what your body actually needs.

I always thought it would be great to be a runner. You know, to get lost in the moment of moving outside while my heart pounded. Tried in college and ended up injured weeks later. Married a great guy who became an Iron Man triathlete, so many of our friends competed in races. But it just wasn’t in the cards given my physical limitations and I let go of that image.

I still get the endorphin rush from regular exercise these days but have listened to my body and adjust activities accordingly. My massage therapist has been a great resource. She told me that I needed to stretch every time I exercise, especially since I spent so many hours each day hunched over a laptop, and that my body was craving Pilates to counter-balance everything else I was doing.

I listened and have felt so much better physically and mentally for doing so. That weekly exercise list you see above? My body can say “Hell No” whenever needed and I’ll get extra rest, slow down, or change things up accordingly.

“As I have gotten older and my mindset towards exercise has changed, I no longer choose different forms of exercise for an aesthetic reason,” said Parker. “Instead, I choose different forms of exercise that require multiple movement patterns to keep me cognitively astute and physically aware of how my body moves. I choose to stay mobile by keeping my mind and body connected so I can stay fit for life.”

How do you mix up your exercise routines? What impact has that had on your mind-body connection?

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Shira Miller
In Fitness And In Health

2x TEDx Speaker, Executive Coach, Chief Communications Officer and Writer with a strong passion for well-being and self-improvement www.shiramiller.com