Could Practicing Mindfulness Help You Make Better Health Decisions?
Research shows that mindful people are more effective at eating better and exercising more. Here are some benefits of mindfulness exercises.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.
Researchers believe that by spending more time in this mindful state, people will be more apt to make better choices about their health – from quitting smoking, eating a better diet, and getting more exercise.
In a study published in the journal Mindfulness, researchers with the University of Pennsylvania found that health messages are more readily accepted by those who are mindful. The team assembled a group of people who were not meeting their weekly exercise goals and exposed them to a variety of health messages. They observed their reactions and also had the group participated in a “Mindful Attention Awareness Scale” or MAAS. The higher the score on the scale, the more mindful a person is considered to be.
Those considered to be mindful responded more positively to the health suggestions and tended to be more likely to implement them into their daily lives. On the other hand, those less mindful were less likely to make those positive changes.
"Some people, when confronted with health messages, felt really bad about themselves," said Emily Falk PhD, senior study author. “And that didn't help them change their behavior. And in the long run, it doesn't help us have a healthier, happier population."
The University of California, Berkeley also offers the following positive benefits of practicing mindfulness:
• A study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
• Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.
• Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
• Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.
• Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.
• Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, helps people lose weight, and helps them savor the food they do eat.
For more on how to begin a mindfulness practice, visit www.mindful.org
Yoona Kang, Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Victor J. Strecher, Emily B. Falk. Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation. Mindfulness, 2016; DOI: 10.1007/s12671-016-0608-7
Photo Credit: By Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons