Exercise vs Meditation

*This article originally appeared in St. George Health and Wellness

Life is busy…and complicated. People who are striving to live a healthy lifestyle are often confronted with competing desires: do I sleep that extra hour, or get up early and make a healthy breakfast? Do I spend time with friends and family, or focus on advancing my career. We all have the same 24 hours each day, and by choosing one healthy activity we are forced to forgo another.

One common question I’m asked is “which is better for mental health: exercise or mindfulness meditation?” Both offer positive benefits, but if your personal time is limited, which one offers the best bang per minute?

To answer that question, researchers in Spain studied 94 people on their lunch breaks from work. The results were published in the International Journal of Environment and Public Health. The workers were split into three groups: those who performed aerobic exercise, performed mindfulness meditation, or did nothing for 30 minutes each day. The study lasted five weeks.

At the end of five weeks, both the exercise group and meditation group reported improvements in well-being; however, the group that exercised had a greater degree of improvement. They reported less stress, less interpersonal conflict, and less irritability. Regarding overall mental health, both groups had similar improvement.

This is consistent with previous studies. Both exercise and meditation are non-medical ways to improve our experience in the world. It seems, though, that exercise is slightly superior to meditation. Additionally, moderate exercise has many physical benefits that meditation doesn’t confer, such as improved sleep, weight management, self-esteem, blood sugar control, etc.

In this simple country doctor’s opinion, if your time is limited, and you have to choose between exercise and meditation, exercise will have the most benefits. But if exercise isn’t your thing, mindfulness meditation will likely improve your experience in the world, too.

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