Evidence suggests that both physical and mental healing can be promoted in patients by way of physical activity and mindfulness practices which may benefit all aspects of well-being, boost quality of life, and help improve health outcomes. Physical activity and regular exercise routines are more regularly recommended to patients in the healthcare setting, particularly in cases of cardiometabolic disease that could benefit from its effects including decreased cortisol levels and inflammation, strengthened cardiovascular health, and improved weight management. A growing body of knowledge implicates the need for the incorporation of mindfulness practices into the healthcare system due to its potential to benefit prevention, diagnosis, and treatment interventions.
The Healing Benefits of Physical Activity
The short- and long-term benefits of routine physical activity on cardiovascular and mental health, wellbeing, and longevity are well-established within the medical community.
“There is no medication or nutritional supplement that even comes close to having all of the effects exercise does,” David C. Nieman, PhD, author of The Exercise-Health Connection: How to Reduce Your Risk of Disease and Other Illnesses by Making Exercise Your Medicine explains in an Experience Life article. “It’s truly the best medicine we know of.”
Investigations into the healing capacity of exercise have revealed that it can spur global healing effects in the body working simultaneously on multiple biological systems to improve both mental and physical health. Research reports direct and indirect benefits of physical activity on speeding up wound healing, reducing oxidative damage, promoting healthy lifestyles, and improving patient health outcomes while reducing the costs of treatment.
Through stressing the body, exercise produces inflammation and oxidative damage causing micro-traumas in the muscles. This stress and physical micro-traumas become stimulants to healing thereby inducing systemic repair efforts. Exercise has proven to demonstrate a vast range of healing influences on the body, including the ability to help reverse negative biochemical trends while improving resiliency and immunity at all physiological levels.
In addition to physical wellbeing, exercise can greatly improve mental health as well-established research has shown it can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, and many other illnesses. Regular physical activity can improve cognition, mood, emotional regulation, motor function while sharpening memory, boosting self-esteem, and supporting healthy sleep patterns.
Notably, the Mayo Clinic supports symptom management with physical activity among patients with depression supported by systematic reviews of randomized trials, which have reported that moderate aerobic activity three times a week can significantly improve depressive symptoms.
Inflammation is known to adversely affect healing and recovery; wounds with low levels of inflammation health more quickly and completely than those with high levels. As physical activity has been found to reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, the associated reduction in inflammation may help support improved wound healing while also providing palliative benefits by decreasing pain and discomfort in wounds.
Further promoting healing, physical activity has also been shown to prevent free radical damage, especially in older adults and diabetic patients who tend to experience heightened levels of free radicals.
Healing Benefits of Mindfulness Practices
Scientific evidence reveals mindfulness practices can positively impact a wide-range of both physical and mental health conditions ranging from cancer and HIV progression to post-traumatic stress disorder and age-related neurodegeneration.
Meditation as a form of self-healing has garnered significant attention among neuroscientists and researchers in the field. A growing body of evidence underscores the relationship between meditation and healthy brain functioning. Studies report the many neurobiological effects of cultivating a mindfulness practice including changes in functional brain connectivity; results suggest that mindfulness programs promote stress management and reduce systemic inflammation.
Additional research has linked the production of dopamine and serotonin – critical neurotransmitters that regulate both mental and physical wellbeing – with consistent mindfulness practices.
The global health benefits associated with physical activity are well-documented; as a lifestyle intervention, exercise is commonly prescribed to patients struggling with chronic disease, cardiometabolic conditions, and mental illness. Mindfulness practices are emerging as a potential adjunctive interventions due to their many systemic healing effects and may soon become widely introduced across the healthcare system.