TIME Heart Disease

How Mindfulness Protects Your Heart

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Tuning in to your body is good for your health

Self-aware people have better heart health, a new study suggests.

People who are mindful score higher on healthy heart indicators, according to recent findings published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine from Brown University researchers. The team looked at whether having something called “dispositional mindfulness”—which means you’re the type of person who’s very aware and attentive to what you’re feeling and thinking at any given moment—was a factor for heart health. They found a pretty significant connection: people with high mindfulness scores had an 83% greater prevalence of good cardiovascular health.

Having dispositional mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean you’re regularly practicing mindfulness processes, like meditation. For some people, being more present is a natural part of their personality. For the rest of us, some say, it can be learned.

In the study, the researchers asked 382 people to evaluate statements that measure their level of mindfulness. Participants responded to statements like “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present”on a six point scale ranging from “almost always” to “almost never.” The participants who scored highest with the best mindfulness scores also had very healthy scores when it came to the seven American Heart Association indicators for cardiovascular health. Those include avoiding smoking, being physically active, having a healthy body mass index, consuming decent amounts of fruits and vegetables, and maintaining good cholesterol, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels.

The associations appeared to be strongest with factors including smoking, BMI, fasting glucose and physical activity. “The society we live in right now is very promoting of cardiovascular disease…cigarettes are still pretty inexpensive, and jobs are sedentary,” says study author Eric Loucks, an assistant professor in epidemiology at Brown University. “People who are more mindful tend to have more awareness of where their mind and bodies are at. By increasing our awareness, we might become more aware of the impact of what we are doing on ourselves.” If a mindful person is less physically active, Loucks suggests, they might notice that they have less energy.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been taught in some medical settings for years, and Loucks points out that mindfulness scores tend to go up with the practice. “It does seem like mindfulness can be taught,” he says. “I think it’s good for it to be available for people who are interested in it…we shouldn’t force people to go mindfulness [training] if they don’t want to go. But it has the potential to be a resource.”

The findings are still preliminary, and the reasons for the connection are still inconclusive. But if corroborated, mindfulness interventions may be non-invasive ways to help people adopt healthier behaviors.

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