Can practicing mindfulness really help you grow old gracefully?
Your healthcare provider may have recommended it to you at a recent checkup.
A yoga instructor may have led you in mindfulness meditation during a class.
But what does mindfulness actually mean, and how can it help you as you age?
Read on to discover more about mindfulness for healthy aging…
What Is Mindfulness?
A lot of us go through life on autopilot, acting on instinct and habits.
We’re so used to living life in the fast lane that it can be easy to rush through life.
But this is the opposite of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, as it turns out, is about allowing yourself to become more aware of the present moment.
To bring clarity to your thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you.
Ultimately, mindfulness can positively change the way you see yourself and the ones you love.
So why is mindfulness so important when it comes to healthy aging?
Let’s take a closer look…
The Importance of Telomeres, Mindfulness, and Aging
Did you know that mindfulness can be as beneficial to your health as regular exercise, eating right, or practicing yoga?
Well, there’s a reason for that…and an answer is a group of cells called telomeres.
Telomeres protect the ends of our chromosomes from damage and are the hallmarks of aging.
The faster you age, the shorter your telomeres get.
Studies show that the shortening of telomeres is a major contributor to the aging process and development of diseases, such as (1)
As you can see, the length of your telomeres is important!
Telomeres shorten with age, but the rate at which this happens can be either increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors.
So, how can you help prolong the length of your telomeres?
According to a recent study, practicing mindfulness is a proven way to keep telomeres long and assist with healthy aging. (2)
But that’s not all…
Next, let’s see what other health benefits mindfulness has to offer.
7 Health Benefits of Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness for as little as 10 minutes a day can improve your overall well-being. (3)
Some of the top health benefits of mindfulness for healthy aging include:
Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system
Reduce stress levels
Increase focus and memory
1. Stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system calms the stress response and promotes relaxation.
By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, mindfulness can:
Lower blood pressure
Relieve muscle tension
Reduce heart rate
Increase hormone production
Prevent tension headaches
The more time you spend being mindful, the more active your parasympathetic nervous system is, and the healthier you age.
2. Pain Management
As you age, your body can become less resilient to aches and pains.
But what if you could reduce pain by simply using your mind?
For thousands of years, Buddhist monks have been doing exactly that.
However, scientists have only recently started to take this more seriously.
In a recent study, brain scans showed that people can reduce the perception of pain in the brain through mindfulness. (4)
By the end of the study, patients reported less severe pain and pain-related distress.
They were also more active in spite of their pain.
3. Reduce Stress Levels
People are living longer than ever before, which means they also have to put up with more stress.
When you’re stressed, the body releases cortisol.
Ultimately, this can damage DNA, and, you guessed it…shorten your telomeres!
This is why keeping stress levels low is important for healthy aging.
When it’s all said and done, mindfulness reduces activity in the fear center of the brain, called the amygdala.
This part of the brain also coordinates your response to things in your environment, especially those that trigger emotions.
By reducing activity in the amygdala, you can reduce stress and age gracefully.
4. Improve Memory and Focus
The older you get, the worse your memory can become.
Fortunately, mindfulness can increase the size of your hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores long-term memory.
It has also been linked to a lower risk of age-related cognitive decline and an overall improvement in psychological well-being. (5)
When you become more present, you exercise the brain, sharpen memory, and improve mental performance.
In turn, your focus and attention span increases.
5. Better Mood
Nowadays, we’re bombarded by media that focuses on the negative side of growing old.
This can have a significant impact on your mental health as you age, making you more anxious and depressed.
Antidepressant medications are generally used for managing depression and anxiety.
But medication alone may not be the answer for everyone.
Studies show that mindfulness can be used alongside medication to help reduce symptoms of depression. (6)
For women, menopause is a natural part of aging, and emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression can skyrocket.
Practicing mindfulness and living in the present moment can keep you grounded and minimize the effects of negative moods.
6. Longer Sleep
Sleep is often overlooked, but it’s one of the cornerstones of a healthy life.
Poor quality sleep can increase your risk of several conditions, including:
Poor concentration and memory
Type 2 diabetes
Impaired immune function
To make matters worse, insomnia becomes more common when you start to age. (7)
Much of the time, medication complications and other health issues can be the culprit.
Fortunately, studies show that people who practice mindfulness experience improved sleep quality. (8)
So, if you’re struggling to get in your ZZZs, spend more time being mindful!
7. Healthier Habits
Humans are creatures of habit, after all — some of these habits are beneficial, and others can hurt your health.
As you age, breaking bad habits gets harder than ever.
However, once again, mindfulness comes to the rescue.
Research shows that mindfulness can help…
Smokers cut down their smoking (9)
Heavy drinkers put down the alcohol (10)
Overweight people lose weight (11)
No matter the case, mindfulness can help you fight your impulses, gain more self-control, and help you live your best life.
How to Be More Mindful
Now that we have a deeper understanding of the benefits of mindfulness, let’s take a look at how it is done…
1. Be Consistent
Consistency is key!
Set aside 5 to 10 minutes at the same time every day to take in your surroundings.
Feel the breeze blow over your face, smell the smells, and embrace your thoughts and emotions.
Can you show up like clockwork at the same time every day?
If you pull it off, this can help you create a habit around mindfulness.
The great thing is, it can be done anywhere!
While you brush your teeth, drink your morning coffee, or walk your dog.
There’s really no excuse!
2. Eliminate Distractions & Focus on Something Constant
It’s easy to get caught up in distractions like checking your phone, browsing the internet, or talking to your co-worker.
But when you practice mindfulness, it’s important to eliminate distractions.
At the same time, give your undivided attention to something constant, like your breath.
Take six deep inhalations and exhalations and notice the rise and fall of your belly.
This rhythm creates calmness and connectedness to self and is a great way to begin your mindfulness journey.
3. Embrace Your Thoughts and Feelings
Did you know you have an average of over 600 thoughts a day?
That’s a lot to embrace!
Research shows that thoughts have a huge impact on your mental and physical health. (12)
If you become aware of your thoughts, without judgment, you can identify the toxic ones and replace them with positivity.
To practice this, try to call out your thoughts and feelings as they come.
Say, “This is making me feel anxious,” or “I’m feeling frustrated.”
Your emotions are just that…emotions, they are you.
This can help separate you from the thought and reduce anxiety.
4. Try Something New
The fear of the unknown…ahhhh!
Doing something new can be scary, but it might be worth it…
When you do something for the first time, the brain creates new connections.
Something as little as taking a different route to work, going somewhere new for lunch, or taking a moment to look up at the stars can create new connections in the brain.
This can also help you discover new perspectives and view old things in new ways.
So the next time you’re about to do something familiar, try to switch it up a bit.
Try These Mindfulness Practices!
If you’re still struggling to implement mindfulness into your everyday life, it can be helpful to set aside time for more formal mindfulness practice.
This can include:
All of these practices can help you focus on the here and now.
They can help you learn how to live life with gratitude and become more in tune with the positive things in life.
Most importantly, mindfulness is a key component of healthy aging.
It can improve your mental well-being and help you live longer.
If you have any more questions about mindfulness for healthy aging, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.