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Practising mindfulness can foster heart-healthy food choices: Study

Practising mindfulness focused on healthy eating can be good for the heart, a new study shows, because it improves self-awareness and helps people stick to a heart-healthy diet.

A team from the Brown University in the US developed the mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction programme which trains participants in skills such as meditation, yoga, self-awareness, attention control and emotion regulation. What makes the programme unique, is that participants learn how to direct those skills toward behaviours known to lower blood pressure.

The eight-week mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction programme significantly improved people’s scores on measures of self-awareness and adherence to a heart-healthy diet compared to a control group, according to results published in JAMA Network Open.

“Participants in the programme 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, Associate Professor of epidemiology, behavioural and social sciences at Brown University in the US.

Loucks said the study helps explain the mechanism by which a customised mindfulness training programme adapted toward improving diet can affect blood pressure.

“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,” he said.

The study compared two groups, totaling 201 participants. The 101 people in the test group were a part of the eight-week MB-BP programme, which included personalised feedback and education about hypertension risk factors; mindfulness training of participants in relationship to hypertension risk factors (including mindful eating); and behaviour change support.

The “usual care” control group 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.

The team said the trial results offer evidence that an adapted mindfulness training programme for participants with high blood pressure that targets diet and self-awareness significantly improves both.

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

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