Improve Health Behaviors in Adolescents with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Your teenager may react with skepticism at first when you suggest meditation. But, with all the noise in the world and on the internet these days, teens can definitely benefit from taking time to quiet the noise and meditate. It’s a handy practice that can help them through all kinds of confusing and stressful situations in life.” – Cleveland Clinic
We tend to think that illness is produced by physical causes, disease, injury, viruses, bacteria, etc. But, many health problems are behavioral problems or have their origins in maladaptive behavior. This is evident in car accident injuries that are frequently due to behaviors, such as texting while driving, driving too fast or aggressively, or driving drunk. Other problematic behaviors are cigarette smoking, alcoholism, drug use, or unprotected sex. Problems can also be produced by lack of appropriate behavior such as sedentary lifestyle, not eating a healthy diet, not getting sufficient sleep or rest, or failing to take medications according to the physician’s orders. Additionally, behavioral issues can be subtle contributors to disease such as denying a problem and failing to see a physician timely or not washing hands. In fact, many modern health issues, costing the individual or society billions of dollars each year, and reducing longevity, are largely preventable. Hence, promoting healthy behaviors and eliminating unhealthy ones has the potential to markedly improve health.
Mindfulness training has been shown to promote health and improve illness. It is well established that if patterns and habits of healthy behaviors can be established early in life, long-term health can be promoted and ill health can be prevented. In today’s Research News article “Integrating mindfulness training in school health education to promote healthy behaviors in adolescents: Feasibility and preliminary effects on exercise and dietary habits.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5840835/ ), Salmoirago-Blotcher and colleagues explore the relationship of mindfulness to health behaviors in adolescents.
They recruited 9th grade classes in two high schools and assigned one to receive either 6-months of the usual health education class for 45 minutes 4 days per week combined with mindfulness training for 45 minutes one day per week or to receive the 4 days health education plus 1-day attention control. Students were measured before and after the 6-month training period for physical activity and dietary intake. Over the 6-month training period class attendance was high at 96%.
They did not find differences between groups before and after training for students who had low physical activity at baseline and did not find differences in dietary intakes. But, for students, particularly males, who were physically active at baseline participation in the health education plus mindfulness class produced significant increases in activity levels at the end of training. This was not true for the health education plus attention control condition.
These findings suggest that incorporating mindfulness training into the health education curriculum may increase health behaviors in adolescents. It is unfortunate that this intervention did not appear to work with the students who needed it the most, the sedentary students and did not work for dietary intake, with overweight and obesity a major problem. Perhaps a more refined and targeted program my work with this group. Unfortunately, the research did not explore other known benefits of mindfulness training for adolescents such as psychological health. This should be explored with future research. Regardless, the results suggest that mindfulness training should be further explored to increase health behaviors in adolescents. Strengthening these behaviors at a relatively early age may have positive health consequences throughout their lives.
So, improve health behaviors in adolescents with mindfulness.
“Qualitative data collection reveals that adolescents are less anxious and sleep better after doing yoga; in addition, their self-awareness and ease in their body increase, and their worldview begins to shift toward a more positive alignment.” – Sat Bir S. Khalsa
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Salmoirago-Blotcher, E., Druker, S., Frisard, C., Dunsiger, S. I., Crawford, S., Meleo-Meyer, F., … Pbert, L. (2018). Integrating mindfulness training in school health education to promote healthy behaviors in adolescents: Feasibility and preliminary effects on exercise and dietary habits. Preventive Medicine Reports, 9, 92–95. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.01.009
Whether mindfulness training (MT) could improve healthy behaviors is unknown. This study sought to determine feasibility and acceptability of integrating MT into school-based health education (primary outcomes) and to explore its possible effects on healthy behaviors (exploratory outcomes). Two high schools in Massachusetts (2014–2015) were randomized to health education plus MT (HE-MT) (one session/week for 8 weeks) or to health education plus attention control (HE-AC). Dietary habits (24-h dietary recalls) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA/7-day recalls) were assessed at baseline, end of treatment (EOT), and 6 months thereafter. Quantile regression and linear mixed models were used, respectively, to estimate effects on MVPA and dietary outcomes adjusting for confounders. We recruited 53 9th graders (30 HEM, 23 HEAC; average age 14.5, 60% white, 59% female). Retention was 100% (EOT) and 96% (6 months); attendance was 96% (both conditions), with moderate-to-high satisfaction ratings. Among students with higher MVPA at baseline, MVPA was higher in HE-MT vs. HE-AC at both EOT (median difference = 81 min/week, p = 0.005) and at 6 months (p = 0.004). Among males, median MVPA was higher (median difference = 99 min/week) in HE-MT vs. HEAC at both EOT (p = 0.056) and at 6 months (p = 0.04). No differences were noted in dietary habits. In sum, integrating school-based MT into health education was feasible and acceptable and had promising effects on MVPA among male and more active adolescents. These findings suggest that MT may improve healthy behaviors in adolescents and deserve to be reproduced in larger, rigorous studies.