Mindfulness Practice Promotes Healthy Eating, Reduces Blood Pressure, Research Shows

Mindfulness Practice Promotes Healthy Eating, Reduces Blood Pressure, Research Shows
Practicing mindfulness improves self-awareness and helps people stick to a heart-healthy diet, researchers have found. (Natalie/Pexels)

Practicing mindfulness focused on healthy eating can lower blood pressure, a new study led by Brown University researchers has shown.

Researchers at the Rhode Island-based university found that when people practice mindfulness, it improves self-awareness and helps them stick to a heart-healthy diet.

The researchers studied two groups of 100 people with elevated blood pressure, with one group practicing a mindfulness program in their daily lives for eight weeks.

People from the group who practiced mindfulness—trained in skills such as meditation, yoga, self-awareness, attention control, and emotion regulation—were more apt to choose a healthier diet, which directly improves heart health, according to the study results published in JAMA Network Open.

“Participants in the program showed significant improvement in adherence to a heart-healthy diet, which is one of the biggest drivers of blood pressure, as well as significant improvements in self-awareness, which appears to influence healthy eating habits,” said lead study author Eric B. Loucks, an associate professor of epidemiology, behavioral and social sciences, and director of the Mindfulness Center at Brown University.

The mindfulness program consisted of eight 2.5-hour weekly group sessions and one day-long retreat, as well as home practice for 45 minutes, six days per week.

Participants were informed of hypertension risk factors, trained in mindful eating, and were supported by the program’s experts in changing negative behavior.

The researchers found that people practicing mindfulness were also more in tune with how their bodies felt after eating certain foods.

“Improvements in our self-awareness, of how different foods make us feel, of how our body feels in general, as well as our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations around eating healthy as well as unhealthy food, can influence people’s dietary choices,” Dr. Loucks said.

High blood pressure is an important risk factor for global early death, according to the World Health Organization. It leads to an estimated 10 million avoidable deaths every year.

Dr. Loucks said that hypertension can be improved with lifestyle changes.

“Almost everyone has the power to control blood pressure through changes in diet and physical activity, adherence to antihypertensive medications, minimizing alcohol intake, and monitoring stress reactivity,” he said.

The control group, which did not enroll in the program, received educational brochures on controlling high blood pressure.

Both groups received a home blood-pressure monitoring device with usage training and options for referral to primary care physicians.

Balanced Eating Plan

The researchers focused on participant adherence to a balanced eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, intended to create a heart-healthy eating style for life.

After six months, the participants in the mindfulness program shifted from a vegetable intake approaching recommended levels (2-3 servings) to recommended levels (at least 4 servings).

The control group had a negative score, with their dietary choices slightly worsening.

The mindfulness group also showed improvement in sensing and interpreting signals from one’s own body compared to six months prior, and outperformed the control group.

The researchers said that a program for increasing mindfulness and targeting high blood pressure in patients can significantly improve a mindful lifestyle and hypertension.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health Science of Behavior Change Common Fund Program through an award administered by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

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