Tag Archives: quality of life

Mindfulness matters for health.

According to a TIME magazine cover article from earlier this year, we are in the midst of a “mindful revolution.” Beyond being a trendy topic, mindfulness is important for making meaningful and lasting health behavior changes. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. 


Mindfulness can be described as an awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. This is most commonly explored through mindful meditation, a practice that is credited with improving physical and mental health. Beyond meditation, being mindful can help to improve attention and focus in nearly every aspect of life.

 

Thinking about your actions and the effect they have on your health and the health of others can be good for you and those around you. It turns out that we engage in many health behaviors that are driven more by habit than conscious decision-making. This includes what, when, and how much we eat as well as how active we are, two of the most important determinants of health.

 

When was the last time you thought about what you were eating? Not just which restaurant to go to or what time to eat, but really thought about what and how much you ate? Chances are, at least some of the time you eat when you aren’t hungry or keep eating even when you are full. You probably also eat foods you know you shouldn’t or don’t intend to, sometimes without even realizing it.

 

This concept was explored in depth by Brian Wansink in the 2006 book, Mindless Eating. Based on his research, this book helped to explain the hidden reasons behind what, why, and how much we eat, often without being aware of it. This includes marketing tricks as well as environmental factors, many of which operate outside of our consciousness, that drive our food choices and prompt us to eat. 

 

This is where mindfulness comes in. By making an effort to be cognizant about your own thoughts and sensations as well as the environment you are in, you can prevent overeating and poor food choices.

 

Furthermore, we should be aware of how our food choices influence others around us. Research shows that children of parents who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to eat more of these foods than kids without such influence. Mindful eating includes accounting for how our actions and choices can influence the decisions of other family members and friends.

 

 

The same is true for how active or sedentary we are. Being active is a choice, sometimes a difficult one, that is influenced by other people and the environment. Most people spend the majority of the day sitting at work and at home, often without thinking about it. This sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and heart disease, so it is relevant.

 

 

Sure, it feels good to sit on the couch to watch television. Think about it: is that really the best way to spend your time? At work, taking short breaks to get up from your desk and move can make you feel more alert and energized. Isn’t that worth it?

 

 

Similar to eating, our activity choices can influence the actions of those around us. A suggestion to walk to lunch can increase your own activity and that of your friends. Planning to go for a walk or bike ride with your family after dinner is a great way to share the benefits of activity.

 

 

When it comes to health, mindfulness matters. Being mindful about what you eat and make a choice to be more active allows you to have a positive effect on your health and the health of those around you.

 

 

Weight loss reduces physical limitations and improves physical function.

Last week I presented a study at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Indianapolis showing that weight loss can improve physical function and reduce physical limitations. This study was also the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

In this study 48 subjects followed a low-calorie diet (~1200 calories/day) and participated in daily exercise (progressing to 60 minutes per day of walking). The diet and exercise programs resulted in significant weight loss, about 13 pounds on average, or over 1.5 pounds per week.

We assessed physical function using a simple physical test called the timed get-up and go test (TGUG), in which the time required to rise from a chair, walk 10 feet, and return to the chair was measured. The subjects also completed the physical functioning domain of the Short-Form 36 Health Status Survey (SF-36), a subjective reporting of health-related quality of life.

Following weight loss the TGUG time was lower, meaning the subjects were able to complete the test more quickly. The SF-36 Physical Function score was  higher. Together, these tests indicate that the subjects were experiencing improved physical function and fewer limitations to normal activities

This is important because physical limitations can have a big impact of quality of life. Being overweight makes simple physical tasks, such as bending over and tying your shoes, challenging. Losing weight can make these things easier, improving quality of life.

This is consistent with what many people who have lost weight report: “I feel so much better now than I did when I was heavy,” or “I didn’t realize how difficult things were for me.”

Sometimes, it’s the little things that count the most!