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Can Mindfulness Help Patients Stick To Lifestyle Changes?

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Changes to diet and exercise can have a big impact on health. But sticking with a new regimen can be tough. Scientists are wondering whether a practice...

Changes to diet and exercise can have a big impact on health. But sticking with a new regimen can be tough. Scientists are wondering whether a practice called mindfulness can help. Now a team of Brown University researchers has won a multi-million dollar federal grant to find out.

 Mindfulness uses meditation to improve attention and self-awareness. Its effects have been shown to reduce stress. But Brown University epidemiologist Eric Loucks wants to try it on high blood pressure, or hypertension.

“So far no one has ever customized a mindfulness intervention to a hypertensive patient population," Loucks said. "So that’s what this study will do is to see if we can increase the effectiveness when we customize it to the things that people with high blood pressure deal with, whether it’s their diet, or physical activity, or taking their medication.”

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Loucks and his team $4.7 million dollars for a two-part study. The first will comb through existing data to find out how mindfulness works –and doesn’t work. The second phase will test those theories on patients trying to stick to a lifestyle change. 

Loucks says participants in the second phase will meet for a couple of hours once a week for nine weeks. They'll be trained in mindfulness techniques, tailored for their diagnosis.

“We help people improve what’s called attention control and also self-awareness. And then later on in the program we start to direct that attention control and self-awareness towards things that influence blood pressure. So what are people’s relationship with food and physical activity?”

Loucks says no previous studies have investigated whether customized mindfulness training can help patients keep up with new regimens for lowering blood pressure or losing weight. The practice has been adopted in hospitals around the country to help patients cope with stress.

Blood pressure cuff at a clinic in Providence
Blood pressure cuff at a clinic in Providence