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Simple Technique Helps Your Brain Achieve Health Goals

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Right about now is the time when either your New Year’s resolutions are steady in rotation or more then likely…nonexistent. A new discovery on self-affirmations may be able to help with that.

“Self-affirmation involves reflecting on core values,” explained Emily Falk, the study’s lead author and director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

The researchers used special equipment to examine an area of the brain that processes self-relevance. 67 Sedentary adults were given various types of health advice (e.g. — “People who sit less are at lower risk for certain diseases.”). Participants who used a self-affirmation exercise before hand showed increased levels of activity in that specific area of the brain during the health advice. They also showed a decrease in detrimental sedentary behaviors in the following month after the study, such as sitting and watching T.V. for too long, etc.

VMPFC is the brain region most associated with ascribing to values and ideas. These new findings could be a huge breakthrough in behavior change, “Understanding the brain opens the door to new health interventions that target this same pathway,” said Falk.

“We were particularly interested in using self-affirmation to help people become more active because sedentary behavior is one of the biggest health threats faced by both Americans and people around the world,” Falk stated.

If you have ever heard of the new health epidemic coined the “sitting disease,” then you know it’s horrible effects on the body. Obesity, diabetes, heart problems, vitamin deficiency, back, neck and wrist pain and even cancer are only a few of the devastating effects of being too sedentary. In some regions almost 85 percent of the adult population has a largely inactive lifestyle and suffer the health consequences.

The participants in this particular study were sent text messages as reminders such as, “According to the American Heart Association, people at your level of physical inactivity are at much higher risk for developing heart disease,” or “After an hour of sitting, try standing for five minutes. Stand up while you read, watch TV, talk on the phone, fold laundry, or write an email.”

For one group they also included in the text messages a self-affirmation. The self-affirmations were things that had particular meaning to the individual. If family was important, the text would be, “Think of a time in the future when you might do something meaningful with friends and family.” If humor was important to the participant, then the message might be, “Think of a time in the future when you’d find humor in an unexpected situation,” for example. When the health messages were accompanied with self-affirmations, the volunteers showed heightened activity in the VMPFC as well as followed the advice more.

“Our findings highlight that something as simple as reflecting on core values can fundamentally change the way our brains respond to the kinds of messages we encounter every day,” Falk said. “Over time, that makes the potential impact huge.”

Falk also stated that the volunteers liked the text messages so much that they asked for the researchers to keep sending them after the study was done. Maybe the use of a simple guided self-affirmation is the key to following through with those New Year’s resolutions, all year long.


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