As you approach the new year, you may be making resolutions for positive health behavior changes. Birthdays and other anniversaries also prompt us to take stock and vow to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Two of the most common promises we make to ourselves are to increase our physical activity level and our stress management skills. Research is now showing that combining mindfulness meditation and physical activity can dramatically improve physical and emotional health.



In addition to cold weather, winter sometimes brings sadness and depression.  Some people experience depression only during the winter. Others with year-round depression have worsening symptoms in winter. Terms such as “winter blues,” “wintertime depression” and “winter-onset depression” refer to a potentially serious form of depression called “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD), which affects people during the coldest and (most importantly) darkest months of the year.



A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).


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The three primary domains of your overall fitness are physical activity, healthy eating and emotional well-being.

These three foundational domains interact with each other to help you maintain whole-person health of your body, mind and emotions. Physical therapists and dietitians know that without emotional well-bring it is difficult to achieve therapeutic goals in the other two domains – physical activity and healthy eating.

Whether you are underweight, overweight or are at an ideal weight; whether you are a sedentary couch potato or exercise regularly; whether you consider yourself happy or unhappy, you can benefit from a balanced approach to these three domains of fitness and positively impact your long-term health. Overall fitness in the three domains is the treatment of choice for the prevention and management of many chronic diseases.

Along with professional advice, your proactive participation, engagement and decision making are required for an overall lifestyle approach. Emotional well-being is often the critical ingredient for success in devising a realistic fitness prescription. The most important prescription you may ever receive  is a lifestyle prescription co-written by you and your primary care provider, therapist or counsellor.


Mindfulness is often defined as paying attention, being in the present moment, on purpose, without judg- ment – as if your life depended on it ( Jon Kabat-Zinn). Bringing mindful, present-moment awareness to your physical sensations, thoughts and emotions is vitally important to this process of self-care, lifestyle change and long-term health.


Keeping a journal of health-related experiences is a research-proven way to hold yourself accountable for your intention to move in the direction of health and stay committed to your self-care prescription. Try keeping a daily journal to help you pay attention to your experiences of eating, physical activity and emotions.

Bringing mindful awareness to eating.

Use your daily journal to help you bring awareness to eating patterns, food choices and triggers for eating. What times did you eat? What food and drink did you consume? How much? Were there any physical, mental or emotional cues that preceded your eating or signalled time to stop? Were you really hungry? Did

 you eat past the point of satiety/fullness?

Mindful eating exercise: Try bringing your complete attention and all your senses (touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell) to the act of eating. You might put your utensil down between bites. Close your eyes as you slowly savor, chew and swallow. Feel the wonders of your body’s digestive processes at work. Track the sensation of the food entering into and becoming part of your body as you swallow. Bring deep gratitude to your body’s wisdom.

Bringing mindful awareness to physical activity.

Your journal can include your physical activity as well. How physically active were you today? Include both formal dedicated physical activity and informal activity as well. How motivated were you to be active? How much did you enjoy the activity while you were doing it? How did you feel immediately afterwards or several hours later? Were you aware of any increased safety associated with paying close attention? Did physical activity impact your sleep or subsequent interactions with other people?

Mindful walking exercise: You can bring mindfulness to walking both as a formal dedicated practice or anytime you are walking. Start by acknowledging you are going to pay attention for the next few minutes to the physical, mental and emotional experience of walking. Begin slowly walking either indoors or outside. Pay attention to your feet touching the earth and your clothing moving back and forth across your skin. With each step, feel your weight shift from the heel to the ball of the foot, then lift and travel through the air and land again on the heel. Feel the deep gratitude associated with the ability to stand and walk. You can also bring mindful awareness to dynamic, aerobic activities.

Bringing mindful awareness to emotions.

This may be the most important part of your self-care prescription and journaling activity. We tend to believe some emotions are “good” or “OK” while others are “bad” or “not OK.” Emotional intelligence involves honoring whatever emotion is present, whether we like it or dislike it. Emotional health includes awareness and acceptance of whatever emotion we are having and feeling an emotion without wondering if it is OK to feel that emotion. This does not mean we ignore problematic emotions that may need professional counselling, such as depression, anxiety, anger or grief. It means that instead of pushing our emotions away or ignoring or denying them, we hold our emotions close enough to see more clearly into their origin and their message. Accepting them as they are also permits us to see that they are usually impermanent, coming for awhile, changing and maybe going away. Journaling about these aspects of your emotions can be very satisfying and freeing.

Mindfulness of emotions exercise: Begin with an intention to get to know your emotions – actually befriending them; after all, they are a part of you. You can practice mindfulness of emotions as they arise spontaneously during ordinary activity or during a formal time dedicated for emotional awareness. In either case, bring non-judgmental attention to the emotion or emotions. Allow all emotions to simply be there as they are, not pushing away an unpleasant emotion and not grasping onto a pleasant emotion. If you do push away or grasp, just notice this. Can you feel any physical sensations in your body associated with your emotions? Are there thoughts, images or memories associated with your emotions? Is there a mixture of emotions? Can you appreciate that you can observe your emotions arising like events in your wider awareness? Can you recognize that you have emotions but you are not your emotions?

Bringing mindful attention to your eating habits, physical activity habits and your emotions is a powerful tool to achieve your lifelong health and fitness goals.

Sources and Resources:

•  Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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