by Jill Suttie
By studying more secular versions of mindfulness meditation, they've found that learning to pay attention to our current experiences and accept them without judgment might indeed help us to be happier.
Studies to date suggest that mindfulness affects many aspects of our psychological well-being:
But does mindfulness
affect our bodies as well as our minds?
While much of the early research on mindfulness relied on pilot studies with biased measures or limited groups of participants, more recent studies have been using less-biased physiological markers and randomly controlled experiments to get at the answer.
Taken together, the
studies suggest that mindfulness may impact
our brains, hearts, immune systems,
Mindfulness may help with that.
mindfulness is good
for our cardiac health.
Those who learned
mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in their systolic
and diastolic blood pressure than those who learned progressive
muscle relaxation, suggesting that mindfulness could help people at
risk for heart disease by bringing blood pressure down.
Those who took the
mindfulness program showed significant improvements in the
six-minute walking test (a measure of cardiovascular capacity) and
slower heart rates than those in the waitlist group.
Research suggests that meditating can increase respiratory sinus arrhythmia, the natural variations in heart rate that happen when we breathe that indicate better heart health and an increased chance of surviving a heart attack.
Mindfulness appears to
reduce Alzheimer's and cognitive decline.
stimulation and relaxation training seemed to be somewhat beneficial
in comparison to no treatment, the mindfulness training group had
much more robust improvements on cognitive scores than any other
A 2017 study looking at brain function in healthy, older adults suggests meditation may increase attention. In this study, people 55 to 75 years old spent eight weeks practicing either focused breathing meditation or a control activity.
Then, they were given the
Stroop test - a test that measures
attention and emotional control - while having their brains
monitored by electroencephalography. Those undergoing
breath training had significantly
better attention on the Stroop test and more activation in an area
of the brain associated with attention than those in the active
These cells, including,
...help us to fight disease and infection in various ways.
Mindfulness, it turns
out, may affect these disease-fighting cells.
Indeed, in people
suffering from cancer, mindfulness appears to improve a variety of
biomarkers that might indicate progression of the disease.
At the end, participants who'd practiced mindfulness had higher levels of the protein interleukin-8 in their nasal secretions, suggesting improved immune function.
Mindfulness can improve
response and defence.
Yet another study found
that patients who had greater increases in mindfulness after an MBSR
course also showed faster wound healing, a process regulated by the
Research shows that people with rheumatoid arthritis have reduced C-reactive protein levels after taking an MBSR course versus being on a waitlist for the course.
Overall, these findings suggest that mindfulness meditation can have disease-fighting powers through our immune response.
telomeres, which are found at the
end of chromosomes and serve to protect them from aging, seem to be
impacted by mindfulness meditation.
However, this study also
found that general supportive therapies impacted telomere length;
so, there may not be something special about MBSR that impacts cell
In fact, a 2018 review of research ties mindfulness training to increased telomere activity, suggesting it indirectly affects the integrity of the telomeres in our cells.
Perhaps that's why scientists are at least optimistic about the positive effects of meditation on aging.
This scan illustrates activity
in the primary somatosensory cortex.
(Source: Dr. Robert Coghill)
In fact, it's quite
likely that these changes have synergistic effects on one another.
Mindfulness can be a useful adjunct to addiction treatment by helping people better understand and tolerate their cravings, potentially helping them to avoid relapse after they've been safely weaned off of drugs or alcohol.
The same is true for
people struggling with overeating.
In fact, it may be difficult to separate out the two, as a key impact of mindfulness is stress reduction, and psychological stress has been tied to heart health, immune response, and telomere length.
This idea is further
supported by the fact that other stress-reducing therapies also seem
to impact physical health, as well.
That's reason enough to
give mindfulness meditation a try...