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Creating a conscious, connected life in 2020 has become essential as wellness and vitality take on new significance and meaning. “The Great Pause” has shown us that activities like running and meditation have the power to keep us feeling good.

Exercise, contemplative practices (like meditation and yoga), and plant-based eating work together in a symbiotic relationship to help achieve this goal. Eating more plants nourishes healthy cognitive and physical functions. A calmer mind-frame eases anxiety and lowers inflammation throughout the body. With lower inflammation, the body can enjoy basic activities like walking and running, which in turn boosts immunity and strength. Eating, resting, and moving – the most intrinsic, basic human functions – have the ability to unlock our best selves.

A Trifecta of Health Benefits

Plant-based eating

The first of the three categories, plant-based eating, focus on the nutrients derived from a plant-forward menu with limited to no animal by-products. Eating more plants awakens health potential, reducing inflammation and cardiovascular and oxidative stress while boosting the immune system. In addition, plant-based eating helps good gut bacteria flourish.

The gut microbiome has a deep impact on our moods with the ability to ease stress and anxiety. The “gut-brain-axis” or the “bidirectional communication between the central nervous system and gut microbiota” shows a role between the gut microbiome and the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain. Furthermore, NIH researchers have found that vegan or vegetarian diets are beneficial for health by “promoting the development of more diverse and stable microbial systems,” providing anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory effects. Plant-based eating also benefits the cardiovascular health of individuals, especially endurance athletes. With the supportive structures that mindful plant-based eating offers, both the mind and body benefit. 

Mindful practices

In April 2020, 45% of adults reported increased anxiety and other negative feelings. As mental health needs soar, the second category of meditation and mindful practices have become even more relevant. 

Meditation has the power of stimulating the vagus nerve, which in turn provides a physical manifestation of wellness throughout the body. This powerful cranial nerve has parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract, and when it is non-invasively stimulated, there are physical health benefits like lowered inflammation, improved cognitive function, fortified immune system, and manageable stress and anxiety. Mindful meditation or yoga offer significant effects on physical health, mental health, and cognitive performance.

Cardio exercise

With less stress, individuals experience lower inflammation which concurrently benefits inward and outward functions. Vital organs are less likely to be overworked, and bones, joints, and muscles are primed for activities like running. Running strengthens all of the internal systems and furthers feelings of clarity, optimism, and an improved mental state. “Many dedicated long-term runners do not run because they want to live longer,” says cardiologist Dr. Aaron Baggish, Harvard Health. “They run because it makes them feel better on a daily basis. There is a mood-elevating, quality-of-life benefit that comes from being a regular exerciser.”

A Resilient and Resourceful New Look at Wellness

This new way of looking at essentials like mental and physical health has created important conversations around inclusivity, accessibility, and a sense of belonging. With reinvigorated community building, 2020 has given us the power to recognize how we can share knowledge of fundamental practices around meditation, running, and mindful participation.

Creativity and opportunities can be found in campaigns like WHO’s #HealthyAtHome or Nike’s #PlayInside. Instagram-live sessions from favorite athletes from elite distance runners to American Ballet Theatre principals, offer people a way to be active and continue moving without prohibitive costs. Working out has become an exercise in itself of individual creativity and resourcefulness, but what became evident is that we didn’t really need all of the extras of the wellness industry to access the foundation of what keeps us feeling good.

When we emerge on the other side of this Great Pause, we will be accompanied by a sense of new wholeness. Perhaps we will walk a bit lighter with conscientiousness, insight, and clarity. Plant-based eating, mindful practices, and cardio pursuits will help heal and strengthen us for the next new chapter.