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Forget multitasking. Try mindfulness.

May 21 2014

An overscheduled day has long been a badge of honor, the sign of the super-productive adult. But health experts question the cost of multitasking, saying it increases stress. And stress can influence health, putting people in danger of developing diabetes and heart disease.

One cure may be mindfulness — the act of singular focus and concentrated awareness.

According to Paul Coppola, head of Wellness Program Strategy and Development at Aetna, “Highly stressed people are at the greatest risk for several types of health conditions. By applying some practical improvements, they could help reduce their risks.”

The Hawn Foundation, created by Goldie Hawn, announced a collaboration with Aetna at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The “Mindful Works” program includes a research element to track results from corporate wellness programs.

Hawn noted, “If you can teach people about their most important resource — their brain — and show them tools and strategies for self-regulation, stress management, how to achieve greater focus and the power in choosing optimism, you’ll have a population that becomes more resilient and able to deal more effectively with the challenges we will all face as a 21st century workforce.”

“The percentage of participants who were in a healthy range for blood pressure jumped from 77 percent to 94 percent by the end of the wellness program.”

Early results show promise

Some of the ideas in the new mindfulness program are based on Aetna’s experience with a wellness program the company started offering to employees in 2013. During the 20-week program, improvements were seen in five health risk factors related to Metabolic Syndrome: triglycerides, high blood sugar, low high-density lipoprotein, blood pressure and waist circumference.

The percentage of participants in a healthy range for blood pressure jumped from 77 percent to 94 percent by the end of the program. In addition, only nine percent of participants had an appropriate waist circumference at the beginning of the program. When they finished, 21 percent were in a healthy range. A bonus: nearly seven percent of employees lowered their body mass index by the end of the program.

“Through mind-body stress reduction programs with Aetna employees, we have demonstrated that mindfulness-based programs can reduce stress and improve people’s health,” said Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s chairman, CEO and president. “Healthier people are more productive and happier.”