Better Health Choices Made When 'In The Moment'

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One might think that those who are interested in improving their health are also the types who welcome suggestions on ways to do just that. But that's not always the case.

That's what researchers are investigating, as to why positive health messages get through to some people, while others fail to readily embrace and act on them. And the key, they are finding, may have to do with an individual's awareness of their physical being as well as being in touch, cognitively, with their present state of mind.

A team of researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that those "who are more mindful are more receptive to health messaging and more likely to be motivated to change." The team, headed by lead author Yoona Kang and senior author Emily Falk, Ph.D., learned that the more aware subjects in their study were of how they felt and situations going on around them, the more likely they were to making a "positive change in behavior as a response to health messaging," according to a university statement.

The study, called "Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation," is being published in the on-line journal Mindfulness

The group studied included 67 participants, 41 of whom were female, made up of a range of races. They were asked about a series of scenarios that indicate how aware they tend to be about everyday experiences and events (i.e. "I forget a person's name almost as soon as I've been told it for the first time" and "I tend to walk quickly to get where I'm going without paying attention to what I experience along the way.")

Their responses were scored on a six-point scale, depending on how attentive they were. And those who scored higher tended to more fully appreciate and understand helpful health messaging – whether it be how much exercise to shoot for in a given week, or what daily limits are best regarding food choices and calorie consumption. 

"Health messaging often causes people to react emotionally in negative ways," said Dr. Falk, an Associate Professor of Communication, "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." 

Subsequently, the findings suggest that not only is it important to want to take steps to improve one's own health, but awareness of their present state is also key in being able to embrace directives that can help chart a successful route to better health.