Benefits of exercising without a phone

Going phone-free: what it’s like to exercise without a phone, and why you should try it

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When was the last time you went to a gym class, for a walk or a run without your phone? We’re addicted to having our devices near us while we exercise but going without can have huge benefits, as writer Lauren Crosby has been finding out.

It had been three years since I’d last dipped my toes into a community swimming pool. Between having a baby and Covid closures, swimming laps just hadn’t happened – but I was finally back, breathing in the chlorine. Just as I was closing up my locker to head into the pool, I remembered I had forgotten my phone in my jacket pocket. As I went to grab it, it suddenly occurred to me: I don’t need my phone for swimming.

Almost taking my phone poolside might sound ridiculous, but it goes with me everywhere. I use it to answer emails for work, take pictures of my kids and respond to texts from friends. I’ve also grown accustomed to using it for exercise.  

If I take the dog for a walk, I usually put on a podcast series. When I go jogging, I listen to music to take my mind off the pain. Even during yoga, I use my phone to log into YouTube to access instructional videos telling me when to do a sun salutation or downward-facing dog. And of course, there’s the security of having my phone near me at all times (you just never know when someone’s going to get in touch!). 

So naturally, my first inclination when I went swimming was to grab my phone. But I eventually left it in my locker, taking only my goggles with me. For 30 minutes, I was left to monotonous movement and my own thoughts. I noticed the bubbles my hands made each time they entered the water and felt my heart race as my speed increased. Time passed slowly, and by the time I pulled myself out of the pool, my mind felt quiet. I had switched off from the world, giving my mind a rest as my body worked. That inner stillness stuck around for the rest of the day. 

That first swim was two months ago. Since then, I’ve incorporated technology fasts into my workouts. When I walk and run, I often choose to leave my phone at home, rather than having it as an entertainment back-up.

It definitely took some getting used to. Without distraction, time does seem to slow, and a 30-minute walk can feel like an hour. I hear my panting breath, rather than a pulsating playlist – battling against my instincts to stop and catch it.

I am, however, finding that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of being phone-free.

It’s an interesting experiment to see where your mind goes when you start to move without any form of technology to keep you busy. In the first few minutes of running or walking without music or podcasts, I notice that my thoughts automatically drift in two directions: what I need to get done and the feeling that I’m not good enough.  

The benefits of exercising in silence

That may sound depressing, and it can be at first, but I’m learning to fight those negative thoughts. Without the space to process, I wouldn’t have been able to battle them with positive affirmations. It’s a bit like I’m practicing CBT on myself, helping me manage problems by addressing how I think – counteracting all the bad with good.

“Silence during exercise is the answer to self-regulation and awareness,” yoga teacher Nicci Dhamu tells Stylist. “Shutting out noise or music creates heightened awareness and focus. Modern science is catching up with ancient wisdom and many studies have been able to prove that the practice of silence is highly beneficial to journey oneself to a place of peace and calm focused on the present moment.” 

I’m also noticing more about my surroundings and how my body feels when I exercise. I notice the colours around me, how the pavement feels underneath my feet, the way in which people nod hello when they pass.

These days, I try to practice yoga at home without a video – spending 20 minutes intuitively moving my body through warrior poses, inversions and rotations in silence. I empty my mind by purely focusing on breathing in and out, and on how my muscles feel as they lengthen and tighten.

Getting rid of technological distractions “gives you a chance to completely focus on your body and what it can do,” explains Karen Lucia, health and movement coach. 

“We have this chatter in our heads all day long and this could be a moment where we can completely switch off. Having no distractions allows us to be more present and to enjoy all the benefits of the activity we’re doing, physically and mentally.”

Even though I still love a podcast, find music a good pick-me-up when I’m feeling sluggish and love a seasoned yoga instructor guiding me through new routines, moving without technology has given me chance to quietly meditate while noticing both my body and my world – without distraction and noise.  

For more mindful workout ideas, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

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Images: Getty

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