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I Tried Meditating After I Worked Out for a Week Straight—Here’s What Happened
by Kelsey Maloney

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and at Fitbit, we’re helping you to learn more about mindfulness, stress management, and more through content that focuses on all things mental health.

Meditation isn’t just for yogi’s anymore. As mindfulness practices become more and more mainstream, everyone from big corporation CEO’s to local florists are starting to integrate some sort of meditation into their daily lives. And while there are multiple types of meditation, one seems to have clear physical and mental benefits: post-workout meditation.

“Particularly after a high-intensity workout, a period of time devoted to meditation or mindfulness can allow the body to rest and recalibrate,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Clinical Psychologist. “This allows adrenaline levels to decrease while feel-good neurochemicals may increase.”

So, with the help of my Fitbit Sense, I experimented with taking a few minutes after my workout cool-down periods for a week to meditate. Read on to learn how I benefited from a few minutes of mindfulness after activity, and how you potentially can to.

First, why should I meditate after my workout?

Everything from our mood to our physical recovery can be positively affected by taking a few minutes to be mindful after exercise. Some studies have even shown that a regular meditation practice can create positive changes in the brain that last even when you aren’t meditating. 

“When meditation is routinely utilized after workouts, the brain effectively learns new, healthy ways of calming the nervous system,” says Manly. “As a result, the feel-good state perpetuated by meditation can then (often unconsciously) be carried over into daily life experiences.”

Whether you’re going on a five mile run or lifting weights at the gym, a mindfulness session can amplify the various physiological benefits of your exercise, too.

“Meditation has been shown to boost the growth hormone called somatotropin, an important hormone that begins to diminish with aging,” says Manly. As lower levels of growth hormone can lead to bone and muscle weakness, fatigue, and other issues, a session of meditation after a workout can actually increase growth hormone levels over time, she notes.

Meditation is also known to decrease levels of the stress hormone called cortisol. As cortisol naturally increases during competitive or high-intensity workouts, meditation can help lower your cortisol levels to help reduce the risk of injury, pain, and body ache so that your body can focus on what’s really important after exercise: recovery. 

“It is during the vital recovery phase that the muscles and organs are able to heal from the physical exertion,” says Manly. “A mindfulness session can stimulate the body’s endogenous opioids, which reduces the individual’s perception of pain and promotes post-workout physical recovery.”

And you know that endorphin-induced bliss that we all get after a workout? Well, “a meditation session can perpetuate this state and support steady post-workout recovery,” Manly adds.

Key takeaways from my experiment with Fitbit Sense

According to research, It’s no secret that meditation is good for our minds just like exercise is good for our bodies, so why not combine them? 

After each of my workout cool-down periods I listened to a six minute guided mindfulness session on the Fitbit app while simultaneously conducting an EDA scan using my Fitbit Sense for a week. I then spoke with the Fitbit research team about my recorded stress data on the Fitbit Sense. My most noticeable results? By the fourth day I was using mindfulness strategies I learned from the Fitbit app to help me sleep better, I felt more focused, and overall less stressed.

The EDA sensor on the Fitbit Sense measures electrodermal activity responses and can detect small changes in the sweat levels of your skin. “We have sweat glands all over the body but they are most dense on the palms and soles of our feet and they are connected to our sympathetic nervous system,” says Ph.D. Belen Lafon, Staff Research Algorithms Scientist at Fitbit. This is important because this sweat tells us a lot about our physiological responses and measuring our EDA can help us understand our body’s response to stressors.

In the first couple days of my experiment, I had 5-7 EDA responses during my cool-down mindfulness sessions. By the end of the week, I had 0-1 responses, which may mean that I had less stress during my meditation after I had practiced for a few days. Overall, I felt the meditation sessions after exercise helped keep my mood more consistently elevated, especially towards the end of the week.  

In addition, my sleep score gradually increased from the mid-60’s up to the high 80’s during the week, which means I was getting better quality sleep. During my meditations, I was training my mind to come back to my breath each time it would wander to other thoughts. I would then use this practice when I would wake up in the middle of the night, which helped me find calm and fall back asleep faster.

Not only did meditation after exercise feel good mentally, but physically as well. During my six minute meditation my heart rate would drop at least 15-20 bpms and I was able to recognize what felt good and what felt strained in my body. If a muscle felt sore, meditation made me aware of it and instead of just jumping into my next task of the day, I knew I should take a moment to stretch.

“Rather than rushing directly back into the busyness of daily life, work, or undone tasks, a meditation period tells the body and mind to relax, slow down, absorb the benefits, and be present,” says Dr. Manly.

How to meditate after a workout

After your exercise and short cool down period, sit down in a quiet place and in a position that is most comfortable for you. “Any posture that allows you to relax into stillness is good,” says Dr. Sean Oakes, Community Dharma Leader and Editor at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. “It’s not about trying to have a perfect posture.”

Here’s some quick tips:

  • Get in a comfortable position and set a timer for 5-10 minutes.

  • Close your eyes or keep your gaze downward.

  • Face your palms up to receive or down to ground.

  • Slow down your breathing. If thoughts come up, acknowledge them then bring your focus back to your breath.

  • When you’re ready to end your meditation, slowly open your eyes.

Post-workout meditation is a great place to start if you’re looking to enhance your exercise recovery and boost your feel-good endorphins. The new Fitbit Sense and Premium can help by offering guided mindfulness sessions, logging your daily mood, tracking your EDA responses, and more. Give it a go and see how you feel!

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.