Proven ways mindfulness is good for your Health
Mindfulness is a practice that requires one to concentrate attention on the present moment. It means focusing your awareness on your thoughts, feelings, physical environment, and sensations in the here-and-now with an accepting attitude.
In a large-scale assessment of over 400 previous studies, mindfulness was determined as an effective mental health technique for helping almost all people that enhance their physical and psychological well-being.
According to thousands of years of practice, Buddhists meditate to know themselves and their connections to all beings. By doing so, they seek to be free of suffering and ultimately achieve enlightenment.
In the past few decades, researchers have been discovering the benefits of practicing this ancient practice. By analyzing more modern variations of mindfulness meditation, they've discovered that learning to pay attention to our current experiences and accepting them without judgment might indeed help us become happier.
According to research, mindfulness impacts several aspects of our psychological well-being: decreasing anxiety, job burnout, and emotional reactivity, increasing positive emotions, and improving the mood.
Is mindfulness, however, beneficial to our bodies as much as to our minds?
This subject has recently been investigated by researchers, with some startling results. While most of the early studies on mindfulness relied on pilot studies with skewed measures or small groups of participants, more recent studies have focused on less-biased physiological indicators and random controlled trials to arrive at a conclusion. Taken together, findings reveal that mindfulness has an effect on our hearts, brains, immune systems, and more.
Though there's no proof that mindfulness is a stand-alone treatment for disease or the most essential ingredient of a healthy life, here are some of the ways it appears to help us physically.
1. Mindfulness can improve immune response.
When we come into contact with viruses and other disease-causing organisms, our bodies send out hordes of immune cells that circulate in the blood. These cells, including T-cells, pro- and anti-inflammatory proteins, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and immunoglobulins help us to fight disease and infection in various ways. It turns out that mindfulness has an effect on these disease-fighting cells.
In several studies, mindfulness meditation appeared to improve T-cell counts or T-cell activity in breast cancer or HIV patients. This shows that mindfulness could help in the battle against cancer and other illnesses that rely on immune cells. Indeed, mindfulness appears to enhance a variety of biomarkers that might indicate disease progression in cancer patients.
In another study, an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course or a moderate-intensity exercise programs were assigned randomly to elderly participants. At the conclusion of the study, participants who had learned mindfulness showed increased amounts of the protein interleukin-8 in their nasal secretions, signifying enhanced immune function. Yet another research revealed that patients who increased their mindfulness after taking an MBSR course had faster wound healing –a process controlled by the immune system.
Studies have shown effects on inflammation markers such as C-reactive protein, which at excessive levels can be harmful to one's health. According to research, people with rheumatoid arthritis who took an MBSR course had lower C-reactive protein levels than those who were on the waiting list for the course. Overall, these findings suggest that mindfulness meditation can have disease-fighting powers through our immune response.
2. Mindfulness is good for the heart.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, hence, anything that reduces the risks or symptoms of heart disease will have a huge impact on society's health.
This is something that mindfulness might be able to help with.
In one study, mindfulness subjects had considerably lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who learned progressive muscle relaxation, suggesting that mindfulness could help people at risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure.
In another research, people with heart disease were assigned randomly to an online program to help them practice meditation or to a waitlist for the program while receiving standard heart disease therapy. Those who took part in the mindfulness training had significantly lower heart rates and improved their six-minute walking test (a measure of cardiovascular capability) than those in the waitlist. A recent review published by the American Heart Association revealed that, while further study is needed, there's enough data to suggest mindfulness as an adjunct treatment for cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment.
3. Mindfulness may decrease cognitive deterioration from aging or Alzheimer’s
As they age, people tend to lose some of their short-term memory and cognitive flexibility. Mindfulness may, however, be able to slow cognitive deterioration even in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
In a 2016 study, participants with Alzheimer's disease engaged in either cognitive stimulation therapy, mindfulness meditation, relaxation training, or no treatment, and were given cognitive tests over two years. While relaxation training and cognitive stimulation seemed to be effective compared to no treatment, the mindfulness training group showed significantly greater increases in cognitive scores than the other groups.
How is it possible that this is true?
According to a 2017 research of brain function in healthy older adults, meditation may increase attention. In this study, people aged 55 to 75 spent eight weeks performing either focused breathing meditation or a control activity. Afterwards, their brains were monitored by electroencephalography while they were given the Stroop test—a test that measures attention and emotional control. On the Stroop test, those who received breath training demonstrated much greater attention and more activation in a region of the brain linked to attention than those in the active control group.
While this study is preliminary, a comprehensive assessment of previous studies shows that mindfulness may help to prevent cognitive decline, possibly through its effects on attention, memory, processing, and executive functioning.
4. Mindfulness may reduce cell aging.
Cell aging happens naturally when cells divide repeatedly over the lifespan and can also be accelerated by illness or stress.
Mindfulness meditation appears to have an effect on proteins called telomeres, which are found at the ends of chromosomes and function to protect them from aging. According to research, long-term meditators may have longer telomeres.
In one study, researchers discovered that breast cancer survivors who underwent MBSR retained their telomere length better than those who were on the waitlist.
On the other hand, another study of breast cancer survivors found no differences in telomere length after participating in an MBSR training, but they did identify differences in telomere activity, which is associated to cell aging. In fact, a review of a study published in 2018 linked mindfulness training to increased telomere activity, suggesting it has an indirect effect on the integrity of our cells' telomeres. Perhaps this is why scientists are cautiously optimistic about meditation's anti-aging effects.
5. Mindfulness may help alleviate psychological pain.
While the physiological benefits of mindfulness are compelling, it's important to remember that mindfulness also has impact on our psychological well-being, which in turn affects our physical health. In fact, these changes are quite likely to have a synergistic effect on one another.
To begin with, a wealth of evidence shows that mindfulness can help healthy people reduce their stress. And, because of Jon-Kabat Zinn's groundbreaking MBSR program, there's now increasing evidence showing that mindfulness can help people manage their pain, depression, anxiety, and stress that often come with disease –particularly chronic conditions.
Drug addictions, for example, are primarily caused by physiological cravings for a substance that momentarily alleviates psychological distress. Mindfulness can be a useful supplement to addiction therapy because it can help patients better understand and accept their cravings, potentially preventing relapse after they've been safely weaned off drugs or alcohol. The same is true for people who struggle with overeating.
While the effects of meditation on physical health are fascinating, we shouldn't underplay the value of meditation for emotional health. Indeed, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two given that among the key impacts of mindfulness is stress reduction; and psychological stress has been linked to immune function, heart health, and telomere length. This concept is reinforced by the fact that various stress-reducing treatments appear to have a positive impact on physical health.
It is quite reassuring to know that something that can be taught and practiced may have an impact on our overall health—not only mental, but physical—more than 2,000 years after it was first practiced. That alone is reason enough to try mindfulness meditation. If you want to explore mindfulness as a technique in your journey to wellness, help is available for you at JarvisHypnotherapy.