The last decade has brought an explosion of interest in mindfulness,
the practice of intentionally focusing awareness on here-and-now experience.
The idea is to notice and accept experience as it unfolds from moment to moment
without judging it.
That simple-sounding concept has a host of health implications.
A large body of research now shows that practicing mindfulness can help people
manage stress, reduce depression and anxiety, and cope with chronic pain and
Recent studies have honed in on more specific benefits to
living in the moment—everything from making better food choices to having a
greater zest for life. For a practice with a rather touchy-feely reputation, mindfulness
seems to have some surprisingly down-to-earth perks. Below is a small sampling
of the latest findings.
Perk 1: Making smart
food choices in restaurants
Mindfulness promotes healthy eating in several ways. Slowing
down and savoring every bite helps people enjoy food more while eating less of
it. Becoming attuned to internal hunger cues helps them avoid snacking when tired
or stressed rather than truly hungry. And noticing when they’re full helps people
stop at that point instead of overeating.
But how well does all this work in the real world, where
meals are often grabbed on the go? Surprisingly well, if a new study from the
University of Texas at Austin is any indication. In the study, midlife women who
dined out frequently were randomly assigned to either six weeks of mindfulness
classes or a waiting list. Those in the classes practiced mindfulness eating
exercises and also learned about diet and behavior change.
Class participants consumed fewer daily
calories, lost more weight, and felt more confident about their ability to
stick with diet changes. They also reported fewer problems with healthy eating in
restaurants, where they continued to dine several times per week. Mindfulness
might sound esoteric, but in this study it transferred well to everyday situations.
Perk 2: Having a healthy
There’s growing awareness that harsh self-criticism about
appearance isn’t just a problem for women. Men
fall prey to body image issues, too. Mindfulness is thought to help counter
this type of thinking. The theory is that it encourages a less judgmental, more
accepting attitude toward life in general, and that extends to body size and
shape in particular.
A study of almost 300 male college students backed this up. It
showed that men higher in mindfulness tended to be happier with their
appearance and more satisfied with their bodies. Compared to their less
mindful counterparts, these men also showed less tendency toward an unhealthy
fixation on becoming more muscular at all costs.
Perk 3: Appearing
happier to others
Fans of mindfulness claim that living in the moment helps
people be not only healthier, but also happier. It’s an attitude toward life
that encourages stressing less and stopping to smell the roses more. And it
seems to work. Brain imaging studies have shown increased activity in part of
the brain associated with positive emotions in people who practice mindfulness
Apparently, it’s a difference that even others can see.
Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands created short video
clips of people who had been introduced to mindfulness at a meditation retreat.
Outsiders who viewed the clips rated the mindfulness newbies as
happier looking, compared both to themselves before the retreat and to non-meditators.
Looking happier could have many social advantages, from
attracting dates to bringing in business clients. Although just saying the word
“mindfulness” still makes some people roll their eyes, evidence is mounting
that living more mindfully can have very practical rewards.
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