How to Use Fitness Time as Deep Thinking Time

Our current lifestyles often prioritize screens, hustle culture, and ultimately burning yourself out. The idea that we can fit everything into every day permeates the unending anxiety so many of us feel. The truth is you can fit everything in – if you are willing to be frazzled and only semi-present all the time. Another truth: you can’t actually fit everything into one day and be present and happy with all of the things. 

Fitness is often presented in this same ‘do it all’ way. Go to all the classes, get on your Peloton, do yoga, and don’t forget to stretch. The list goes on. If you find yourself scrolling Instagram on the elliptical or feeling pressured to squeeze in a daily workout, this is a clear indication your relationship to fitness is all sorts of mixed up. You aren’t benefiting as much physically and certainly not as much mentally, if exercising becomes one more stressor on your ‘to-do’ list.

But with the right mindset, fitness can become a “moving meditation” and open your mind up to deep thinking you might not otherwise be able to do. Here’s how.

fitness and deep thinking

How fitness benefits mindfulness, creativity, and self-reflection

Screen-free thinking

Did you know it takes an average of 23 minutes to return to the task you were working on after looking at your phone? Twenty-three minutes is a long time – time that could be better spent or enjoyed in several other ways.

How often do you let yourself think screen free? I do it often, mostly because I swim, bike or run most days. Fitness is my time to think uninterrupted. Once you allow yourself to have uninterrupted time to think, you find yourself coming up with new ideas, or just practicing self-reflection. This time is essential, yet hard to come by. Fitness is an excellent way to be with yourself and get into a more mindful state. 

Connect with your body

Our current fitness culture is focused on outcomes (power output in your spin class, how much weight you’ve lifted, distance you’ve run, etc). Instead of focusing on the outcome, focus on the present moment and the experience. Connect with your body by engaging your mind. This refocuses your mind and prevents it from wandering, which helps you stay on task. Mindfulness also allows the benefits of exercise to be felt in your body as they are happening. This connection creates an awareness of your feelings that often lasts throughout the day. 

Attention and concentration. 

Research has shown that the more likely someone is to be mindful, the more likely they are to stick to an exercise routine. A game like tennis or pickup basketball requires attention, as does a slower practice like yoga. An attentive mind helps slow things down, and this will help you when you need to concentrate on something else later. Reminding ourselves that we can do things with attention is important as we find our minds drifting during tasks throughout the work day. 

How to use fitness time as deep thinking time

Leave the phone home

Research shows the mere presence of a phone reduces your ability to be present. Practice distance from your phone. It will make it easier to leave it home or off at other times as well. 

These days most fitness watches allow you to upload music or podcasts. If you are someone who really needs music to motivate yourself, preload it into your watch and leave your phone at home. If you feel anxious about this, that is a great way to start your workout. Focus on what you’re anxious about and allow yourself to feel that feeling and deal with it.

Set an intention

Choose something to think about. Calming our busy minds is hard, prior to your fitness routine set an intention. This can be something that you’ve been avoiding thinking about or otherwise not making space for. Or, use the time to tune into your body. If you find yourself drifting, remind yourself of that intention.With a little work, you will find yourself able to get into a flow state. This works particularly well with exercise that is repetitive (running, swimming, etc).

Maximize your flow state

Once you’re in a flow state, you will find yourself able to do deeper thinking. Flow has been linked to greater happiness and has been shown to provide intrinsic satisfaction. Exercise, when done mindfully, increases your intrinsic happiness as you are able to experience the benefits of it physically as well as mentally. Once you find your flow, you will know it. Watch how much that exercise becomes more enjoyable as well as helping to calm your thoughts throughout the day. 

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About Stephanie Roth-Goldberg

Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCSW, CEDS-S is a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders. She is the founder of Intuitive Psychotherapy NYC, a small group psychotherapy practice focusing on treating eating disorders through an anti-diet, HAES lens. Stephanie works with athletes and the intersection of eating disorders and sports. Stephanie, a runner and triathlete herself is passionate about incorporating movement into eating disorder treatment to help folks feel empowered and connected to their bodies. She regularly presents on the subject of eating disorders and exercise. When Stephanie isn’t working, she can be found running around with her two children, writing, or triathlon training.

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