A Buddhist concept obscure to many once upon a time, mindfulness—being aware of your thoughts, feeling and experiences from moment to moment—is now irrefutably, completely mainstream. Even the scientifically inclined eventually took note, most recently in a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine concluding that those who possess inherent mindfulness enjoy lower obesity risk and belly fat.
Researchers studied almost 400 people who completed the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) test, which involves rating one’s agreement with statements such as “I find it difficult to stay focused on what's happening in the present” and “I could be experiencing some emotion and not be conscious of it until some time later.” The higher a tester scores, the more innately mindful one is. The researchers also gathered information on the participants’ fat levels, body mass index, age, smoking habits, socioeconomic status and other health and lifestyle factors. After running the numbers on the data, the team found that people with lower MAAS scores were 34 percent more likely to be obese than people with higher scores. Even those who were not obese as children, but became overweight as adults, were significantly more likely to score low.
Although researchers admit these outcomes are based on correlation and not causation (as in, X led to Y), they believe it’s still meaningful since it indicates that mindfulness may be a cognitive tool people use to successfully conquer their instincts like, say, late-night sugar cravings. Mindfulness may also help people prevail over that feeling of dread when it comes to exercise.
One important thing to distinguish is that the researchers focused on dispositional mindfulness, which means the higher-scoring subjects are thought to possess a quality of mindfulness as an intrinsic personality trait—not by actively practicing it. However, mindfulness can be learned, say the scientists.
And you might want to start learning now. Aside from this study, mindfulness has also been associated with a host of other physical and mental benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, memory, focus and relationship satisfaction as well as stress reduction, per the American Psychological Association.
How do you get started? There are in-person and online courses that can guide you. Google “mindfulness course” and become a master today.