Go big or go home
In the study, college students underwent a lifestyle change program for six weeks, with one group spending five hours per day on self-improvement, and the other in a wait-list control group. The five hours consisted of two and a half hours of exercise, one hour of mindfulness, and one and a half hours of lectures or discussion on nutrition, well-being, relationships, and similar topics. Fun stuff! The active group was also encouraged to limit drinking and get plenty of sleep.
The outcome? Changes galore.
Now, it's easy to look at that program and think, "DUH, of course they were healthier," but Michael Mrazek, director of research at UCSB's Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential and lead author of the paper, explains that the changes subjects underwent were widespread and didn't just affect their health.
"We found parallel improvements in more than a dozen different outcomes that truly matter in our lives -- strength, endurance, flexibility, focus, reading ability, working memory, mood, stress, self-esteem, and happiness," he says. "Part of what distinguishes this work is finding such broad improvements across so many different domains, particularly given that the effect sizes were so large. Large effect sizes signify that the results were not only statistically significant but also indicative of substantial changes. Many of these effects were very large -- larger than you tend to find in studies that focus on changing only one thing."
You're way better at life than you think you are
Dr. Mrazek notes that past studies showed that exercise, sleep, and mindfulness could have widespread effects in multiple areas of our lives. By focusing on improving all of those areas at once, his team found that for greater change, your goals should be aligned -- like learning a new hobby and getting more sleep so you can have energy in the evening to work on it -- though improving one area of your life will bleed into other areas, as well.
"The greater the alignment between two goals, the more they will support one another; yet there's nothing wrong with pursuing two skillful goals that are only loosely related," Mrazek explains. "The trouble begins when we hold conflicting goals: if you want to binge the new season of House of Cards and you also want to use your weekend to put your body and mind in a great state for the upcoming week, you're in trouble." In other words, don't plan on giving up drinking while also vowing to spend more time in sports bars late at night.