The word mindfulness means so many things these days. None of them to be ignored, if you know what’s good for you, it seems. When people use the term mindfulness, they could be referring to the meditation, the clinical work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and chronic pain patients, the magazine with a similar name, the relaxation technique, or the modern encouragement, based on ancient Buddhist principles, to remain aware of thoughts and feelings experienced as moments pass. Pass being the operative word in most mindfulness discussions because mindfulness suggests that you be aware of thoughts and feelings, but not try to judge them. One mindfulness guru suggests that you watch your thoughts and feelings as you would watch traffic drive by as you sat nearby. You would not try to stop or judge the cars, just watch them.
Wherever you heard about mindfulness, go back and learn more. Dr. Kabat-Zinn long ago demonstrated the therapeutic value of mindfulness as a way to manage severe chronic pain, stress, and anxiety. As if that weren’t enough to cure most of our ills, other researchers have followed demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness for emotional and physical health, which brings us to the latest research from Brown University that “dispositional or ‘everyday’” mindfulness contributes to healthy glucose levels.
Using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) to assess awareness, and a host of other psychological and physiological tests, Dr. Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, and colleagues gathered data on 399 volunteers. The researchers found that people with higher scores for mindfulness were significantly more likely than people with low scores to have healthy glucose levels.
Although the results of the study show an association, they do not prove a cause. This effort is part of a program led by Brown University researchers who are studying whether increased mindfulness can improve cardiovascular health. They hypothesize that the cause could be something as simple as the fact that people with higher degrees of mindfulness may be better able to motivate themselves to stick to healthy routines and practices. Could be that simple. Their research did show that mindful people are less likely to be obese and they also have a sense of control that they can change important things in their lives. Could be that simple or it could be that mindfulness, especially mindfulness meditation, actually changes the brain in positive, healthy ways.
So you want to say, “Who cares why it works; it works!” Yet, we know mindfulness works because of the scientific evidence. More research–based on empirical, accepted scientific methods that can be replicated–emerge everyday. The Brown study exposed new ground, according to Loucks, who said “There’s been almost no epidemiological observational study investigations on the relationship of mindfulness with diabetes or any cardiovascular risk factor.” He added
This is one of the first. We’re getting a signal. I’d love to see it replicated in larger sample sizes and prospective studies as well.”
The news just gets better and better because anyone can learn to be mindful. How many beneficial things can anyone easily learn? The scientific evidence is fueling user-friendly applications, useful devices, informative magazines and a wide range of other credible tools to support mindfulness and cool the monkey mind. The primary tool for mindfulness is right under your nose.
The research, supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior. In addition to Loucks, the paper’s other authors are Stephen Gilman at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Willoughby Britton, Roee Gutman, Dr. Charles Eaton and Stephen Buka at Brown University.
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