Simple, low-cost steps like wearing a pedometer to encourage walking or meditating for a few minutes every day can enhance adolescents' health, say researchers. According to Dr. Vernon Barnes, physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia's Georgia Prevention Institute, these types of side-effect-free steps can quickly help lower blood pressure, heart rate and even weight, neutralizing today's unhealthy, upward trends among young people.
In one of three studies presented at the American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore, Dr. Barnes said a positive attitude and family environment increases the effectiveness of the interventions. The research comparing breathing awareness meditation to health education and life-skills training discovered that all methods improved blood pressure.
Dr. Barnes, who has studied the effect of mediation on cardiovascular health for over a decade at MCG, has documented the improved stress reactivity in black adolescents with high normal blood pressures as well as lower blood pressures in black, inner-city adolescents who meditate twice daily.
Meditation also sharpens the mind for education.
Dr. Barnes said: "When you come to school with a stressed mind, you can't do as well.
"The benefit of calming your mind is preparing it to learn."
A review of school records showed meditating adolescents miss fewer days and generally behave better, he pointed out.
Another study demonstrated that the blood pressure of students in a high school-based walking program decreased after just 16 weeks compared with non-participating peers. Dr. Barnes, part of an adult team competing with a group of high school students to see which can walk the farthest, said the pedometer inspired adolescents to walk.
He said: "You think about it: that little extra walking will hopefully benefit your health."
"It all works together, which makes sense," he said, looking at the effectiveness of the techniques over just a few months. While decreases in blood pressure were small - a 2.5 point reduction in pedometer wearers compared to a 3.5 point increase in the control group - it's good momentum.
Dr. Barnes said: "If you could maintain that decrease into your adult years, it may decrease cardiovascular disease risk,"
Researchers also reported reductions in anger and anxiety after a dozen, 50-minute classes on the topics taught by health teachers. Psychosocial factors such as anger are known to contribute to a wide range of health problems including elevated blood pressures and heart disease in adulthood. But Williams LifeSkills workshops helped adolescents learn to analyze a situation before responding, to listen and empathize or even stand firm when necessary.