“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Socrates
Have you decided to make some changes in your life? Maybe you feel out of shape, your mind wanders, or your self-esteem is wavering. It’s natural to decide to focus on one thing -- losing weight, maybe -- and tackle the other issues later.
However, a new paper by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, suggests you're selling yourself short. "Pushing the Limits: Cognitive, Affective & Neural Plasticity Revealed by an Intensive Multifaceted Intervention," published this week in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, strongly suggests that we have seriously underestimated our ability to change our lives for the better.
Michael Mrazek, director of research at UCSB's Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential and lead author of the paper, said the six-week study from which the paper is drawn demonstrates that simultaneous, significant improvement across a broad range of mental and physical functions is possible. Participants in the intervention all showed dramatic improvements in more than a dozen different outcomes, including strength, endurance, flexibility, working memory, standardized test performance, focus, mood, self-esteem, mindfulness and life satisfaction.
In the study, 31 college students were recruited for an intensive lifestyle change program; 15 participated in the intervention and 16 were in the waitlist control group. Those in the intervention put in five hours a day each weekday for six weeks. They did 2.5 hours of physical exercise (including yoga and Pilates), one hour of mindfulness practice and 1.5 hours of lecture or discussion on topics such as sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, compassion, relationships or well being. The were advised to limit alcohol consumption to one drink a day, eat a diet of mostly whole foods and sleep 8-10 hours a day.
Overall, the results were clear and striking, Mrazek said. Even six weeks after the intervention, participants continued to show improvement in all areas. "We predicted that the intervention would lead to substantial improvements in health, cognitive abilities and well-being, but we didn't know how long they would last. It seemed possible that some of the benefits wouldn't extend beyond the training. So I was surprised that even without any contact and support, participants maintained significant improvements at the six-week follow-up."
Mrazek said conventional thinking about changing one's behavior focuses on working on one thing at a time. This is also the way most science is done -- manipulating just one thing and observing the effect. He and his team, however, decided to try a fresh approach. "It occurred to us that real changes in people's lives don't occur in a vacuum. We wanted to see how much change is possible if you help someone improve all these dimensions of their life simultaneously."
Ultimately, Mrazek said, he'd like the study to be a source of optimism. "I hope this research raises a sense of possibility, and maybe even sense of expectation, about what is possible for someone who wants to improve his or her life," he said.
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Journal Reference:: Michael D. Mrazek, Benjamin W. Mooneyham, Kaita L. Mrazek, Jonathan W. Schooler. Pushing the Limits: Cognitive, Affective, and Neural Plasticity Revealed by an Intensive Multifaceted Intervention. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2016; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00117 University of California - Santa Barbara. (2016, March 25). Change by the bundle: Study shows people are capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 26, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160325093732.htm