We sit in traffic for hours every day, to get to and from jobs where we juggle all sorts of stressful and demanding tasks. When we do get home, we’ve got to walk the dogs, cook supper and feed the kids. There’s very little room in all of that for meditation, inner peace or calm… Likewise, finding the time to exercise – to beat down stress with sweat – is almost impossible. If you’re reading this and nodding your head, then let us make a suggestion: sign up for exercise that takes care of your body AND your mind – at the same time. You’ll reap the physical rewards, and also enjoy the benefits of a more relaxed mind.

And hey, here’s another irresistible reason to sign up: scientists are increasingly finding a link between a healthy mind and a healthy body. They’re finding that when you do engage in the mind/body stuff, you can significantly reduce your risk of chronic conditions, like heart disease. More so than you would if you did regular physical exercise, where there is no “mind” element.

Here are out top five picks of mind/body exercises:

Yoga: Yoga techniques use the breath to still the mind and work the body so that the two can work together, for better. The yoga postures stretch and strengthen (and challenge), while the breathing technique and meditative practice, that’s part and parcel of it, calm the mind and chase away stress.

Routine practice of yoga techniques has been proven to improve flexibility and strength, and also cardiovascular fitness. Scientists have found that yogis have a healthier heart, as well as a lower risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke. They’re also better able to handle the stresses of everyday life.

Pilates: Joseph Pilates developed ‘contrology’ (as he originally called Pilates) because he had suffered with poor health as a child. Through his extensive studies of various exercise forms (including the martial arts, skiing and ball sports), he understood how to exercise the body with the core as the “powerhouse”, which is one of the fundamentals of Pilates practice, to build overall physical strength, prevent injury and rehabilitate muscles. He also recognised the importance of a sound mind in the maintenance of a sound body. And this is why much of modern Pilates practice insists on mindful, present practice as well as mental focus. It’s not surprising, then, that scientists have found Pilates practitioners are strong, fit (read: have healthy hearts) and avoid conditions like depression.

Tai chi: If you’ve ever watched a tai chi class, you’d be forgiven for thinking it some kind of chilled-out line-dancing class. It looks a lot like a slow dance. Experts at Harvard have even gone as far as to call it “meditation in motion”. But scientists have proven it has serious health benefits. Those who practice it regularly have better heart function than the rest of us. They also have lower blood pressure and generally, show fewer signs of being stressed out, depressed or tense.

Martial arts: The Karate Kid learned all about the importance of mental clarity, focus and calm. Of course, he had to have the fitness, physical endurance and strength, too. Depending on the form of martial arts you choose to practice, you’ll benefit from improved cardiovascular fitness, which means you’ll enjoy a healthier heart and lower blood pressure. You’ll also avoid diabetes, depression and osteoporosis.

Nia: Have you ever wanted to blend together dancing with karate and a bit of Pilates? Nia (which stands for neuromuscular integrative action) does just that! It was developed in the late 1980s by two personal trainers. They wanted to create a mind/body exercise that focuses on the movements (and emotions) that come naturally to us, given the biomechanics of the human body. So a typical Nia class will move through 52 movements (each designed to work, stimulate, strengthen and heal a different part of the body), as well as the five sensations: flexibility, agility, mobility, strength and stability.

Since Nia is performed to music and incorporates a vibrant emotional element (laughter and singing, for example), it offers all sorts of benefits: improved circulation and cardiovascular fitness, improved balance and coordination, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of chronic disease, improved sleep and better moods.

If you’re craving an exercise class that gives you more than a good sweat, try one of these!

Or better yet, become a certified instructor – and help others find mental focus, inner peace and glowing health. Check out the  Comprehensive Pilates Instructor’s Certification at Trifocus Fitness Academy.  Follow this link for more information.