Sometimes health seems like a great mystery, something untouchable without the help of professionals. And while modern medicine helps many people achieve greater wellbeing than what they’re capable of on their own, it sometimes comes down to the fundamentals of what well-being really is in the first place. With so much available information and easily digested health messaging, why is it that some ideas, that when applied, will have far-reaching benefits? The answer may be found through mindfulness and our cognitive ability to actually accept helpful health information.
We all know we should eat better, quit smoking, exercise more, or just generally take care of ourselves more comprehensively – yet when it comes to receiving such advice, many of us react defensively and can be downright bitter. Now, recent studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that people with a greater sense of mindfulness may actually be more receptive to health messaging. Beyond that, mindfulness may also bring about a greater likelihood of behavioral change in the long run.
Studying Health Messaging and Mindfulness
In the study entitled, “Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation,” lead author Yoona Kang rightly states,
“Mindfulness is usually defined as having awareness of the present moment…” Shown to reduce negative reactions to situations charged with stress or emotion, mindfulness is increasingly recognized as a way to promote better health communication. Though, it’s much easier said than done, even apart from observing this relatively intangible state of being from a research perspective.
During the study, a group of people who normally achieved almost no weekly exercise were exposed to a variety of positive health messages. Researchers then recorded participant reactions to these messages, their motivation to change negative behaviors addressed by the messages, as well as whether or not their behaviors actually changed. Senior author, Emily Falk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenburg School said,
“Health messaging often causes people to react emotionally in negative ways, so we investigated factors, including mindfulness, that could potentially influence people to be more receptive to health messages and more motivated to change their behavior.”
In order to gauge the mindfulness of each participant in their daily lives, researchers used a Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS). Composed of 15 scenarios, people were asked to rate their actions in situations including “I tend to walk quickly to get where I’m going without paying attention to what I experience along the way,” or “I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time.” On a scale of 1 to 6 indicating “almost always” to “almost never,” a higher score was used to suggest a higher degree of mindfulness.
The result was that those who were reportedly more mindful had greater success with integrating positive health messages and advice in an effort to improve their health. According to Falk,
“Some people, when confronted with health messages, felt really bad about themselves, and that didn’t help them change their behavior. And in the long run, it doesn’t help us have a healthier, happier population.”