“Mindfulness has been successfully applied to a broad range of health problems and may also be an important strategy in targeting exercise behavior,” Margarita Salas says. 

Photo of FFW awardee Margarita SalaEvery year, the Hogg Foundation gives the  Frances Fowler Wallace Memorial Award for Mental Health Dissertation Research  to eligible doctoral candidates at institutions of higher education in Texas. Awardees receive a $1,500 scholarship to help cover research-related expenses.  

One of our 2018 recipients, Margarita Sala, is earning her Ph.D. in Psychology at Southern Methodist University. Her study, “Mindful Exercise: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial,” explores the acceptability, feasibility and preliminary efficacy of exercising mindfully for people leading inactive lifestyles. Sala’s results will contribute to a growing body of research on using mindfulness as a tool for improving physical health problems. 

We recently talked with Sala about the aims, methods, and contexts of her research project:   

Hogg Foundation: Tell us about yourself. At what point did you decide to pursue a doctorate and career in clinical psychology, and what influenced that decision? 

Margarita Sala: My interest in pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology was kindled early in my undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I was involved in research at the UNC Eating Disorders Lab. Doing research as an undergraduate showed me that I enjoyed engineering a research project through from its inception to publication and motivated me to pursue a graduate degree.  

Hogg Foundation: Your study is titled, “Mindful Exercise: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” What led you to take a professional interest in this topic? 

Sala Most Americans do not engage in regular exercise, despite its mental and physical benefits. A promising intervention strategy to increase exercise behavior may be to exercise mindfully. Mindfulness has been successfully applied to a broad range of health problems and may also be an important strategy in targeting exercise behavior. 

Hogg Foundation: What questions are you trying to answer with this research? 

Sala: I am conducting a small, randomized controlled pilot trial of an audio-recorded mindfulness-based intervention for physical activity. 

Hogg Foundation: How do you think your research methods and approach will help you answer the questions you’re posing? 

Sala: I randomized community participants to a mindfulness intervention or active control group. Participants in the mindfulness intervention condition received instructions to exercise during an in-lab session and for at least 150 minutes throughout the next week while listening to an audio-recorded mindfulness-intervention, whereas participants in the control condition were instructed to exercise at a moderate intensity target heart rate. I evaluated intervention acceptability, feasibility and the extent to which it increased physical activity over the following week. 

Hogg Foundation: What, from your perspective, is the biggest area of need—or the greatest opportunity—related to this topic? In other words, how could we really move the needle on this front? 

Sala: The audio-recorded mindfulness-based physical activity intervention is a feasible, acceptable and potentially efficacious approach to help individuals increase physical activity. It appears to be most effective for individuals who are high in trait mindfulness, suggesting that there may be boundary conditions of the intervention that should be explored in further research.  

Sala recommends the following related resources: