People are capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes, according to a new study which suggests that we have seriously underestimated our ability to change our lives for the better.
The six-week study demonstrated that simultaneous, significant improvement across a broad range of mental and physical functions is possible, researchers said.
Participants in the intervention all showed dramatic improvements in more than a dozen different outcomes, including strength, endurance, flexibility, working memory, standardised test performance, focus, mood, self-esteem, mindfulness and life satisfaction.
“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,” said Michael Mrazek from University of California in the US.
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,” said Mrazek.
For the study, 31 college students were recruited for an intensive lifestyle change programme; 15 participated in the intervention and 16 were in the wait-list 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 function.
“The neuroimaging findings help us understand and contextualise the other significant results. For instance, participants made dramatic improvements in their mindfulness, their reading comprehension, their working memory capacity,” said Mrazek.
“So we look to the neuroimaging data to understand what is happening in the communication between brain networks that is allowing for these changes,” he added.
Even six weeks after the intervention, participants continued to show improvement in all areas, researchers said.
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.