Humans capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes

New York, March 27 (IANS) Human beings are capable of multi-tasking and accommodating simultaneous changes in life, says a new study and adds that people have seriously underestimated the ability to change lives for the better.

“The study demonstrates that simultaneous, significant improvement across a broad range of mental and physical functions is possible,” said lead author Michael Mrazek, director at University of California, Santa Barbara, in US.

The results of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, showed dramatic improvements in more than a dozen different outcomes in the participants, including strength, endurance, flexibility, working memory, standardized test performance, focus, mood, self-esteem, mindfulness and life satisfaction.

Further, a comprehensive approach allows each area of improvement to reinforce the others.

“Recent research suggests its often more effective to make two or more changes simultaneously, especially when those changes reinforce one another. It’s easier to drink less coffee if at the same time you get more sleep. Our intervention extended this logic by helping people make progress in many ways, which can create an upward spiral where one success supports the next,” Mrazek noted.

In the study, which spanned six-weeks, 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.

Throughout the study, the participants were tested on a variety of factors, including physical fitness, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, working memory capacity, reading comprehension and more.

They also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brains to examine areas known to be associated with a range of cognitive functions.

The neuroimaging findings showed that the participants made dramatic improvements in their mindfulness, their reading comprehension, their working memory capacity.

The study could have wider applications beyond the college campus. Students from middle school or high school and also retirees can kick-start the next phase of their lives from similar programs.

More research is necessary to know if these results generalise to other populations, but there may eventually be opportunities for similarly modelled programs to be integrated into education, medicine, or social services, the researchers concluded.

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