Mindfulness meditation helps keep you in the moment and provides physical and mental health benefits, too.
To many folks, mindfulness means being in the moment — right here, right now. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines mindfulness as the awareness of your internal states and surroundings.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing attention on your breathing, thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. According to the APA, this meditation is used to become highly in tune with sensory information and to focus on each moment as it happens.
“Meditation is a cognitive technique that improves a person’s mind, body, and soul. Psychological aspects, like insight, attention, reflection, and self-regulation are deepened,” says Dr. Deborah Serani, professor at Adelphi University in New York.
“Meditation can also increase physical experiences, such as increase relaxation, fortify healing, recovery and a stronger immune response, as well as decrease pain, anxiety, stress, depression and blood pressure,” adds Serani.
Practicing mindfulness meditation may help you reap the following health benefits.
Enhance your sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults 18–64 years old need about 7–9 hours of sleep a night. Those 65 and older can go with an hour less than that. Being sleep-deprived can wreak havoc on your body and mind.
“Mindfulness meditation has long been shown to help with insomnia and sleep habits,” says Serani.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which researched 49 older adults with moderate sleep difficulties, mindfulness meditation helped the participants experience fewer insomnia symptoms and less daytime fatigue.
The researchers pointed out that meditation’s impact on sleep most likely has to do with the following:
- improves relaxation
- affects the autonomic nervous system, which impacts awakening
- increases production of the sleep hormone melatonin
- increases serotonin, which is released in the body before melatonin and helps regulate sleep-wake cycling
- reduces heart rate
- decreases blood pressure
- affects areas of the brain that control sleep
Manage your weight
If managing your weight is difficult, practicing mindfulness might help.
According to a 2017 review of studies, mindfulness meditation can help you lose weight and adhere to a positive change in eating habits. Also, those who practiced mindfulness meditation were more likely to keep the weight off. Researchers discovered that:
- Weight loss interventions based on mindfulness were “moderately effective for weight loss” and “largely effective in reducing obesity-related eating behaviors.”
- People who participated in mindfulness programs and lost weight kept off the weight compared to those who participated in “lifestyle-change” programs.
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Lower your stress levels
The APA defines mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) as a therapeutic intervention of weekly group classes and daily home mindfulness exercises over an 8-week period of 23 articles about MBSR and workers found that the therapy improved psychological functioning in employees and reduced levels of emotional exhaustion (burnout), stress, psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress.
MBSR also improved the following:
- Present moment awareness
- Personal accomplishment
- Occupational self-compassion
- Quality of sleep
Decrease loneliness in seniors
The effects of loneliness on health and mental health have come to the forefront in recent years. Research by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reports that many adults 50 or older who are lonely have a higher chance of health complications, such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, anxiety, and suicide.
If you’re one of the 61% of adults feeling lonely, according to Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index, meditation might help ease your feelings.
Research published in BMC Psychology reviewed 13 studies that looked at meditation and its effect on loneliness. The review concluded meditation’s influence on alleviating loneliness is promising.
Ease negative emotional states when in motion
Practicing mindfulness while you engage in movement-based behaviors, such as walking, standing, and sitting, can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.
According to a smartphone-based 14-day study of college students, mindfulness during movement-based behaviors was associated with lessened negative states.
“Meditation is awesome for your mental health. It can also improve positive thinking,” says Serani.
Increase your attention span
If you find it difficult to pay attention for long periods of time, meditation might enhance your focus. According to 2018 research, various studies showed that the initial effects of brief meditation could impact attention even in people who are new to meditating.
Manage chronic conditions
If you live with a chronic condition, finding ways to manage it might include several interventions, such as medication and other therapies.
According to research, meditation may be one method to help with some conditions, such as fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and irritable bowel syndrome.
Help prevent depression relapse
Depression is a serious condition that requires treatment from a qualified professional. In addition to medication and traditional psychotherapy, research shows that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which incorporates mindfulness meditation practices, can lower the occurrence of depression relapse.
Also, research conducted in 2019 of Brazilian university students found that while meditation training reduced depression and anxiety symptoms, participants needed to continue to meditate to experience the benefits.
Reduced anxiety was seen in people with high levels of anxiety who participated in an introductory session of mindfulness meditation, according to a 2018 study.
The researchers reported a reduction in anxiety in the first hour after the meditation session and significantly lower levels of anxiety 1 week after the session.
Also, the researchers found that a single mindfulness session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety as reduced stress on the arteries was shown an hour after the session. Researchers reported that this could help reduce stress on organs, such as the brain and kidneys, and help prevent high blood pressure.
“Meditation is not only great for your physical and psychological health, it can shift neural pathways and create positive brain changes,” says Serani. “Some science suggests meditation need not be something you have to practice for months or even years to reap major brain benefits. Taking a daily restful alertness break can change your brain for the better in as little as 11 hours.”
Decrease cognitive decline
To determine if mindfulness could affect cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease, a 2016 randomized clinical trial analyzed people with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants were observed over a two-year period as they attended weekly sessions of stimulation based on mindfulness, cognitive stimulation therapy, and progressive muscle relaxation.
The mindfulness group showed significant scores compared to the control and muscle relaxation groups and was on par with the cognitive stimulation therapy group.
Researchers determined that mindfulness could be an option to slow cognitive impairment in people with Alzheimer’s disease.