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MU receives national award for using mind-body approach to improve health

The belief that the mind plays an integral role in physical health dates back to the earliest days of medicine. The Greek physician Hippocrates, often referred to as the founder of medicine, wrote "natural forces within us are the true healers of disease." A University of Missouri team has tapped into the science and practice of this mind-body interaction to develop an innovative and award-winning program.

Called "Taking Care of You: Body-Mind-Spirit," the program was recognized with the 15th annual Jeanne M. Priester Award. The award honors extension groups that develop and expand programs that positively impact health. MU won the award in the county/multi-county category against 28 other nominations from across the nation. Developed at MU, the program teaches approaches to deal with stress and experience healthier ways to eat.

"People struggle with developing healthy lifestyle behaviors, and stress plays a major role in that," said Molly Vetter-Smith, assistant professor and state specialist for health education with MU's School of Medicine and MU Extension. "This program examines health decisions and offers practical research-based strategies to manage stress and explore mind-body interactions, including mindfulness and other strategies from the field of positive psychology. It teaches activities to help participants better manage their stress, which our research shows results in improved health behaviors."

One of the activities involves mindful eating. The practice emphasizes the enjoyment of the eating experience by focusing on aromas, taste and texture of food. If participants slow down and savor all aspects of the eating experience, said Vetter-Smith, they realize they're much more satisfied with smaller portions of food.

"Research shows that normally when you eat a meal, you really pay attention to the taste of your food for the first two bites and the last bite," Vetter-Smith said. "For all those bites in between, we're not paying attention to the taste, textures and enjoying the satisfaction of the food we eat. That influences what we eat and how much we eat, and our program teaches approaches to bring greater awareness to eating"

Other activities in the eight-session program focus on stress management skills and identifying strategies that complement a busy lifestyle. Activities in the program are aimed at creating a resiliency to stress and improving what Hippocrates termed the "natural forces within us," or rather, the healthy mind-body interaction.

The "Taking Care of You: Body-Mind-Spirit" program was piloted in 2009 and 2010 and has been offered at worksites, churches and community centers statewide since 2011. With 45 trained specialists throughout Missouri, group sizes for the program range from 10 to 25 participants. The innovative program has garnered attention beyond Missouri, as well.

"We hope to expand the program to other states," Vetter-Smith said. "We've had lots of other states contacting us and asking how they can get the program."


Contact: Mike Muin
University of Missouri School of Medicine

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