I’ve talked a lot about how mindfulness is good for your emotional health, good for anxiety and good for your well-being. But it turns out it’s also good for your heart. Mark and I talked about this, and what “dispositional mindfulness” is on Radio Live, Sunday Morning this week. (Click here to listen to the interview…)
A recent study has found that those who have higher levels of dispositional mindfulness tend to rate higher on cardiac health measures. But what is dispositional mindfulness? It refers to the ability we all have, to varying degress, that enables us to monitor our emotional, mental and physical state, moment by moment. As a skill it is variable amongst individuals, some people are good at it, and some aren’t.
“In the study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 382 participants first answered the 15 questions of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)… …They then underwent tests measuring the American Heart Association’s seven indicators of cardiovascular health: cigarette smoking, physical activity, body mass index, fruit and vegetable consumption, cholesterol, blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels… …Loucks and his team paired the self-reported mindfulness information with the cardiovascular test results and discovered that those with higher mindfulness scores had an “83 percent greater prevalence of good cardiovascular health.” They also found that those with lower mindfulness scores struggled with four of the seven cardiovascular health indicators: body mass index, physical activity, fasting glucose and cigarette smoking.” (Click here for the whole article)
Like most of these studies, the results are correlational, in that dispositional mindfulness and cardiac health co-occur in the same people, and as such we can’t say that mindfulness causes good physical health habits. Nonetheless it is possible to theorise why these things might go together.
Firstly if we naturally pay attention to our physical and emotional states we notice ill health, how it feels to not exercise or eat unhealthy food, and likewise notice the positive effects of exercising, eating well and looking after ourselves.
Secondly many forms of exercise are meditational in nature, running for instance, and regular exercise my increase dispositional mindfulness.
There is also a relevant causal relationship we do know about. Active and regular practice of mindfulness decreases our levels of cortisol, or what is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone.” And high levels of cortisol are associated with an increased risk for depression, mental illness and lower life expectancy.
Convinced yet? Well you might want to try taking the test used in the research the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) (Click here to take the test). If your results aren’t that great, don’t worry. Mindfulness is a very learnable skill, and regular meditation can have quite an immediate effect on your levels of mindfulness. Another good place to start is with the video below. I’ve shared this before, but it’s still the best introduction to mindfulness that I’ve found. Enjoy…