Lunchtime Mindfulness and Exercise Training have only Weak Benefits for Stress and Mental Health
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
”The research is strong for mindfulness’ positive impact in certain areas of mental health, including stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation, reduced rumination, for reducing mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and preventing depressive relapse.” – Kelle Walsh
Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits.
Exercise can also improve emotions and their regulation. More and more businesses are employing mindfulness training for their employees improving their well-being and promoting creativity and productivity. So, it makes sense to study the relative abilities of exercise and mindfulness training in the workplace in promoting well-being.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness versus Physical Exercise: Effects of Two Recovery Strategies on Mental Health, Stress and Immunoglobulin A during Lunch Breaks. A Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7215846/), Díaz-Silveira and colleagues recruited mid-level professionals with moderate stress levels who were nor either regularly exercising or practicing mindfulness from a large multinational company. They were randomly assigned to a no-treatment, mindfulness, or exercise group. Mindfulness training consisted of a modified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Exercise consisted of aerobic gym and outdoor workouts. “The intervention took place during the five working days of five consecutive weeks, during which the two active groups practiced MM or PE during the lunch break (before having lunch), with equal time intervals of 15 min in the first week, 20 min in the second week, 25 min in the third week and 30 min in the fourth and fifth weeks.” They were measured before and after training and 1 and 6 months later for perceived stress and general mental health and provided saliva samples that were assayed for immunoglobulin A.
They found that immediately after the 5-weeks of training both the mindfulness and exercise groups had significant reduction in perceived stress including harassment, overload, and irritability-tension-fatigue dimensions. But these improvements were no longer present 1 and 6 months later. They also found that at the 6-month follow up the mindfulness group had significantly improved mental health.
These are interesting but somewhat disappointing results. Mindfulness training and exercise appeared to reduce perceived stress levels but the benefits did not last. Also, the mental health benefit for mindfulness training was only apparent at the 6-month follow-up. Prior research has routinely reported lasting reductions in perceived stress and mental health. This suggests that mindfulness and exercise training during the work lunch hour is not the best way to approach mindfulness training in the workplace. The reasons for this should be explored in future research. But it is possible that the rest and relaxation during lunchtime is important for well-being and that filling this time with mindfulness and exercise practice is somewhat counterproductive.
So, lunchtime mindfulness and exercise training have only weak benefits for stress and mental health.
“Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental health and wellbeing.” – Mental Health Foundation
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Díaz-Silveira, C., Alcover, C. M., Burgos, F., Marcos, A., & Santed, M. A. (2020). Mindfulness versus Physical Exercise: Effects of Two Recovery Strategies on Mental Health, Stress and Immunoglobulin A during Lunch Breaks. A Randomized Controlled Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(8), 2839. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17082839
This research analyses the effects of mindfulness meditation (MM) and physical exercise (PE), practised as daily recovery activities during lunch breaks, on perceived stress, general mental health, and immunoglobin A (IgA). A three-armed randomized controlled trial with 94 employees was conducted for five weeks including two follow-up sessions after one and six months. Daily practice lasted 30 min maximum. Perceived stress and general mental health questionnaires and saliva samples were used. There were significant differences in time factor comparing pre- and post-test of Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ) both for PE [Mdiff = 0.10, SE = 0.03, p = 0.03], and for MM [Mdiff = 0.09, SE = 0.03, p = 0.03]. Moreover, there were significant differences of interaction factor when comparing MM vs. PE in total score at pre-post [F = −2.62 (6, 168.84), p = 0.02, ω2 = 0.09], favoring PE with medium and high effect sizes. Regarding General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) variable, practicing MM showed significant effects in time factor compared to pre-Fup2. No significant differences were found for IgA. Thus, practicing both MM and PE as recovery strategies during lunch breaks could reduce perceived stress after five weeks of practice, with better results for PE. Moreover, practicing MM could improve mental health with effects for 6 months.