Can We Use Our Minds To Live Longer? The Art of Mindfulness Meditation

Everyone is talking about how great Mindfulness Meditation is, but what does it entail exactly and how does it work?

Neuroscientist Catherine Kerr gives us a good idea of what to expect, but the latest research sheds even more light on why we should all be meditating daily!

Catherine Kerr - TEDx - Mindfulness Starts With the Body: A View from the Brain

Anti-Aging Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Only in recent years has research into mindfulness meditation begun to take off, as more and more scientists are catching onto it’s positive therapeutic effects.

When one considers all the benefits of mindfulness, it becomes clear that it contributes to leading a longer life!

1. Meditating Reduces Stress
Being constantly exposed to high levels of stress is one of the silent killers within society today.

In the case of a heart attack or a stroke, it is obvious how stress shortens the lifespans of many. However, the inflammation caused by stress directly affects our bodies and worsens the progression of all chronic lifestyle diseases, from cancer to neurodegenerative conditions.

In a very impressive study carried out on cancer patients, mindfulness meditation proved to reduce their stress[1]A Randomized, Wait-List Controlled Clinical Trial: The Effect of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program on Mood and Symptoms of Stress in Cancer Outpatients.

Not only did simple meditation techniques achieve lower anxiety levels in those with cancer, but it improved on their symptoms, reducing negative symptoms experienced in both the heart and gut.

These patients could focus more clearly, had less emotional disturbance, and had “more vigor” by comparison to the non-meditating cancer patient group!

In another study, mindfulness meditation allowed for faster recovery in Psoriasis patients, contributing to healing their painful skin lesions by reducing their stress levels considerably[2]Influence of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Intervention on Rates of Skin Clearing in Patients With Moderate to Severe Psoriasis Undergoing Photo Therapy (UVB) and Photochemotherapy (PUVA)!

2. Improves Immune Function
Mindfulness Meditation makes your immune system A LOT stronger.

Way back in 2003, researchers took two groups of individuals who were due for influenza vaccines. The group that participated in meditation training had higher amounts of antibodies 8 weeks after the vaccines were administered than the group that didn’t meditate[3]Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation.

Nevermind medication during flu season – just meditate to self-medicate, and you’ll be able to better fight the next big pandemic!

3. Prevents Pain
Since mindfulness meditation involves selective attention, pain relief was an obvious area of study for researchers.

Those with chronic pain have trouble focusing on anything else but the pain, which naturally makes it worse. Pain diminishes the quality of life, and under certain conditions, it affects people’s ability to function.

Thankfully, mindfulness meditation comes to the rescue yet again!

When subjects who suffered chronic daily pain underwent mindfulness meditation training, it improved their symptoms dramatically[4]The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain.

Present-moment pain was the most significantly reduced, helping them to cope when pain peaked. Dependence on painkillers also rapidly decreased, further improving the lives of these patients.

The participants underwent a series of follow-ups for up to 15 months after the initial trial. The results were so positive that most of them continued doing mindfulness meditation and reported that their pain levels got better as time wore on.

Meditation also reduces our perception of the pain and allows us to focus away from pain, eventually to the point that the pain diminishes.

4. Reverses Depression
In just about every single study that involves mindfulness meditation, there is one side effects that is the same: elevated mood.

Meditation has continuously proven that it improves mood, reverses depression, lowers anxiety, reduces emotional disturbances or behaviors, and even bolsters the self-image of those who practice it!

On a neurological level, depression equates a loss or lack of neurons in specific regions of the brain responsible for processing and essentially ‘feeling’ emotions.

These positive results thus suggest that mindfulness meditation indirectly stimulates neurogenesis by preventing the onset of depression.

5. Improves Cognition
Whether you practice mindfulness meditation every single day or every now and then, the science shows that it improves cognition[5]Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training.

Of those who partook in four days of brief mindfulness meditation training, research findings revealed that they had enhanced cognition and executive function, improved working memories and an increased ability for spatial processing.

In other words, those who meditate become smarter, can logically reason better, are able to solve problems easier and feel more connected to the world as a whole.

Those were just the results after four days – imagine what doing it for years will do to your brain?

Furthermore, improving cognition, executive function and working memory will all contribute to fighting against neurodegeneration and rapid aging.

If you want to keep your mind sharp and clear until the day you die, meditation looks like a very promising avenue!

6. Enhances Neuroplasticity
Just to put the cherry on top, it turns out that mindfulness meditation will enhance your brain’s overall ability for neuroplasticity[6]How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective.

Naturally, scientists wanted to find out exactly how mindfulness meditation confers so many potent effects. When they investigated the neurological changes that occur during meditation, they were astonished to find that it affects more than five areas of the brain!

The parts of the brain meditation affect are involved with multiple processes, from emotional awareness, to processing all sensory input, to decision making and reasoning, and even regarding temperature control and hormonal balance.

These areas all became far more adaptive regarding neuroplasticity, suggesting that mindfulness allows the brain to function more efficiently as well as enhancing the brain’s resilience to damage or sudden change.

How To Incorporate Mindfulness Meditation Into Everyday Life
The first thing to note is that mindfulness begins in the body.

As described by Kerr in the TEDx talk above, simply bringing your awareness to your breathing or a physical sensation is the most straightforward form of mindfulness meditation.

This means that you can turn any activity in your world into a form of meditation. Every moment can become conducive to enhancing your attention span and lowering your stress levels!

For those who suffer from chronic stress, severe pain or who battle to focus, it can be difficult to make this leap into mindfulness from day one.

Sitting down every day or even a few times a week and listening to the below guided audio meditation can help you to develop the skills required to improve the quality of life moment-by-moment.

Enhance your focus, reduce stress, and get a grip on how you perceive the world through learning how to meditate!

For more information on mindfulness meditation and where to begin, here are some great books for beginners.

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