Mindful Movement and Ageing

If there is one magic pill to address the negative aspects of ageing it is exercise, which can enhance both physical and mental wellbeing. Thus Park and Bischof [2011] lend support to the mental benefits of physical activity:  “There is a growing body of research that suggests fitness training in older adults enhances both neural structure and function…. studies that yield increases in volume of brain structures as a result of experience, such as the expertise research, provide good evidence for plasticity of neural function with age.”   The Canadian Study of Health and Aging followed more than 4,000 people who had been cognitively normal five years earlier to see who had developed cognitive impairments and dementia. The most physically active people were about 40 percent less likely to have developed cognitive impairments compared with people who were not active.


Although in this Mindful Ageing course mindful movement focuses on practices drawn from somatics, yoga and Qigong, many participants have seen the benefit in a variety of other activities, including cycling, dancing, running, spinning, and mindfully walking in the Peak District [the nearest National Park to our base in Sheffield].  

The interlinking effects of the eight aspects of MBLE are supported by the findings of a Finnish study of elderly persons, which found that “physical activity had a positive effect on both meaning in life and self-rated health and functioning  … meaning in life has been recognized as an essential factor of maintaining personal well-being.” (Takkinen et al 2001)  In his exploration of the body-mind connection Rejeski concludes: “A mindfulness perspective can benefit the promotion of physical activities and a new relationship with the body in aging. Likewise, physical activities in the context of aging provide an ideal means of developing mindfulness in day-to-day life.” (2008)

For many, the problem with physical exercise is that ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’.  Stuart-Hamilton comments that: “With regard to choosing the right lifestyle, the answer seems to lie in the things a lot of people hate: namely, taking more exercise, eating and drinking less, and smoking not at all.“ (2012)   Mindfulness can help us to explore the barriers we often develop to physical activity, or to sensible eating – as Thich Nhat Hanh has argued (2011).

In 2017 the journal Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation devoted a whole issue to the question ‘Why mindful movement and Pilates for the geriatric population’, saying that ‘the purpose of this issue is to highlight the role of mindful movement, Pilates, and Pilates-related movement modalities in improving the health and quality of life for older adults”.