There has been a lot bandied about in the media about mindfulness and its benefits. The premise behind mindfulness is to bring awareness to the present moment and identify your emotions as you feel them.
Studies show that it is effective for reducing stress and anxiety – but could it have a positive effect on our physical health too? Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University believes it can.
Loucks carried out a study which found that those who ‘live in the moment’ and have a mindful disposition tend to have less body fat. He believes that because early humans had to hunt and gather food, the human brain is wired to make us eat as much as we can for fear of not being able to find more. Also, early humans were programmed to rest when they weren’t hunting – this may explain the aversion we can feel towards exercise.
“However, the human brain and sense organs have not had evolutionary time to change responses to these types of sense cues.” Says Loucks.
This means that in order to eat healthier and exercise more, thought and self-regulation is required.
Loucks study looked at nearly 400 individuals, measuring body composition as well as their mindfulness disposition. This was done via a 15-question survey that asked participants to rate themselves on statements like ‘I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.’
Participants with low levels on the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) were 34% more likely to be obese. They were also found to hold a pound more of fat in their bellies.
“My hypothesis is that for those who are more aware of their thoughts around eating they might start to notice negative emotions around diet if there are excess amounts consumed. They might also notice how they feel better when they are more physically active.” Loucks said.
A subsequent study is looking into the effect being mindful has on cardiovascular health. Loucks’ next phase following this will be to develop customised mindfulness interventions specifically targeted at reducing heart disease factors.