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A woman outside practicing meditation before exercise.

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Why Meditation Should Be a Part of Your Fitness Routine

Meditation and exercise are a seriously powerful duo.

By Michele RossJanuary 11, 2024

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Need an extra push to keep your fitness routine on track, attain a longed-for personal best, or simply avoid tapping out when the going gets tough? Meditation might be just the secret sauce you need. Practicing meditation (among other mindfulness techniques) can help you take your workouts to the next level—no matter your level of physical fitness or the hurdles standing in your way.

But why, exactly, are meditation and exercise such a powerful pairing? We asked experts about the benefits of each practice and how they go together to promote physical, mental, and emotional health. Read on for everything you need to know about exercise and meditation.

The Importance of Meditation and Exercise

It’s no surprise that exercise is good for you. As the Mayo Clinic recaps, consistent physical activity yields a world of benefits, which include but certainly aren’t limited to:

  • Protection against chronic health conditions, such as metabolic and cardiovascular diseases

  • Mood regulation

  • Higher energy levels

  • Improvements in sleep

  • Weight management (if that’s a goal for you)

Like exercise, meditation offers powerful perks for your well-being, too. For instance, researchers behind a 2019 study published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research investigated the impact of daily 13-minute guided meditation sessions for adults aged 18–45, all of whom were new to meditation, compared to a control group. Within eight weeks, those who meditated every day experienced stronger outcomes than those who didn’t, including:

  • Better moods

  • Improved anxiety

  • Enhanced attention spans

  • Stronger working memory and recognition memory

But the benefits of meditation go even further beyond brain-boosting, mental-health-supporting potential. Per a 2023 review published in the journal Cureus, meditating may also promote major wins for other markers of health, such as:

  • Decreased blood cholesterol levels

  • Increased HDL (aka “good”) cholesterol levels

  • Positive effects on the immune system

  • Anti-inflammatory and healthy aging potential

  • Improved outcomes for diseases including diabetes, hypertension, and fibromyalgia

That’s just the beginning: Meditation can also help improve sleep, increase energy levels, reduce stress, and more.

Why Do Meditation and Exercise Go Together So Well?

In light of the benefits of both meditation and exercise covered above (which are truly only the tip of the iceberg), combining the two can result in some pretty big payoffs. And rest assured that this rings true whether you meditate before, during, or after a workout.

“[Meditation and exercise] are complementary in that they both deepen our ability to be in the zone,” says Elizabeth Winkler, LMFT, a therapist who also specializes in mindfulness and meditation. Many of us enjoy exercising since it helps us get out of our heads; similarly, meditation prompts you to focus on physical sensations, your breath, and your surroundings, which can reduce mental chatter and stress.

“We train the body for strength, balance, and flexibility, yet we are also training the mind for that, too,” Winkler says. Your physical and mental focuses need to be on the same page to achieve fitness goals—be it a power yoga flow, a heavy deadlift, or that last mile on your ride. “Training for any sport or fitness revolves around strengthening both the physical body and the mind,” Winkler continues.

How Does Meditation Complement Exercise and Heighten Performance?

If you want to take your fitness goals to the next level, beginning a meditation practice (which can take on many forms) can be incredibly beneficial in helping you get there. 

Here are five ways meditation can help heighten your performance:

1. Meditation Improves Attention and Focus

“Reaching your goals requires mental focus, not getting distracted, and going for what you want,” says Peloton instructor Nico Sarani. “For example, meditation can help you focus on your goal when you want to give up, are frustrated, or suffer from anxiety during competitions.”

Winkler adds that meditating allows you to finely tune your attention, directing it to where it matters to yield positive, proactive effects. “During exercise, we immerse ourselves in physical sensations, anchoring us in the present moment,” she explains. “Meditation serves as an additional anchor, allowing us to connect with our bodily sensations while noticing the cascade of thoughts within our awareness.” 

Rather than completely zoning out during a workout, this mindfulness allows you to consciously choose where your focus goes—say, to your goal of completing your full rep and set counts on strength training days, or the glory of crossing the finish line during a marathon. This concentrated attention can take your physical performance to new heights, Winkler explains. And the more you meditate, the stronger your attention and focus become, thanks to helpful reinforcements from our brain’s neural pathways.

2. Meditation Boosts Motivation

All too often, we want to give up when the going gets tough, both within exercise and in our day-to-day lives. However, the phrase “mind over matter” is key here. Negative self talk and emotional responses are more likely to drive the urge to tap out than your true physical capabilities.

“By practicing meditation, we learn to process performance-hindering emotions faster and get back into training quicker, keeping up our workout routine and our motivation,” Nico explains. “We can also work with affirmations that we practice during meditation, which can easily be remembered during training when we need to push through.” As such, you can think of your meditation practice (and the skills you gain from it) as your internal cheerleader to help you stay the course.

“When the body takes you to the edge of your comfort zone, the mind training is there to push you further,” Winkler adds, which creates a powerful feedback loop. “What was once resistance now transforms to support.”

3. Meditation Strengthens Your Mental Muscles

Your level of physical fitness and strength can only get you so far if your mind isn’t in good shape. The same goes when you have your heart set on a goal but struggle to achieve it, no matter how much time, muscle, and sweat you put forth.

“At a certain point, every athlete encounters the need to shift their mindset to reach the next level,” Winkler says. “Meditation serves as the perfect avenue to strengthen that mental muscle.” 

Research backs up the power of meditation and exercise, which scientists sometimes refer to as mental and physical (MAP) training. A 2016 study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry found that twice-weekly, 30-minute meditation sessions paired with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise over eight weeks yielded significant reductions in depressive symptoms and rumination in adults with major depressive disorder. The researchers concluded that MAP training may be especially effective in regulating cognition and keeping ruminative thoughts at bay.

A woman sitting in her room practicing meditation before exercise.

mapodile / E+ via Getty Images

4. Meditation Helps You Visualize and Achieve Workout Wins

Both Nico and Winkler emphasize the potent power of visualization. “By envisioning yourself not just matching but surpassing your previous achievements, you can manifest this by connecting with the emotions and gratitude of this visual experience,” Winkler explains.

To combine meditation with visualization for fitness wins, Winkler suggests:

  • Paying attention to your breath

  • Sharpening your focus

  • Visualizing and feeling your desires with vivid details

  • Embracing gratitude

When you repeat this practice and trust your training, you’re in peak position to achieve those longed-for wins. “Just by visualizing certain movements and a successful accomplishment of any given workout goal, we prime the body and mind to stay focused,” Nico says, noting that this can have a big impact on our physical performance. 

Long story short, this “mental rehearsal” can lead to powerful effects on physical performance—all through constructive, positive thinking.

5. Meditation Allows You to Honor and Care for Your Body

Powering through a workout with brute force alone runs the risk of overexertion and injury. A meditation practice can help you avoid these potential pitfalls by tuning into and heeding your body’s limits.

“By becoming more aware of the body and its sensations, we can prevent injuries and learn to listen to our bodies so we don’t go too far in certain movements, poses, and training sessions,” Nico explains. “If I’m aware I’m getting slightly dizzy during a tough HIIT workout, I can rest for a moment and thereby give my body what it demands. If I feel a pinch in my knee in a yoga pose, I can slowly come out of that pose instead of pushing through.”

In these cases, it’s not about giving up, but rather, respecting and protecting your body—and meditation can help you get better at doing so.

The Takeaway

Meditation might seem like a passive activity that doesn't have much impact on your fitness performance, but in fact, the opposite is true. Combining meditation and exercise provides countless benefits: meditating can improve attention and focus, boost motivation, increase your mental toughness, improve your visualization efforts and outputs, and allow you to better care for your body. As a result, meditation has the power to potentially help you achieve heightened performance during your favorite workouts or sports.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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