Meditation and Brain Health: Benefits Backed by Science
The COVID-19 virus has left us all more stressed than ever before, but there’s one group of people that the pandemic has hit especially hard: older adults. A recent poll conducted by the National Poll on Healthy Aging interviewed 2,000 adults from the ages of 50 to 80. More than half (56%) of the participants reported struggling with feelings of isolation during the pandemic, a dramatic increase from 27% in the 2018 poll.
Long hours spent indoors away from family and friends can have us all feeling low, and the stress and loneliness can wreak havoc on your mental health. That’s why many older adults are turning to the practice of mindfulness meditation to cope with stressful feelings during the pandemic.
Just like washing your hands to get rid of germs, meditation is an excellent way to help cleanse your mind of troublesome thoughts, and practicing mindfulness can do more than just help you relax. Taking a few minutes out of your day to ground yourself in the present moment is one of the most rewarding things you can do for your mental health, and the benefits are backed by science.
The science-based Aviv Medical Program is centered on the innovative hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cognitive and physical training, plus nutrition coaching. Supportive wellness practices, such as meditation, help to create a truly holistic approach to enhancing cognitive and physical performance.
What is meditation? The art of mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is the art of being present in the here and now.
It’s about taking a few minutes every day to clear your mind of distressing thoughts and engaging with what’s right in front of you.
Think of it as a workout for your brain. In the same way that you might lift weights to keep your body strong, meditation is a way to train your mind and increase your focus and awareness. It’s not a spiritual practice or a mystical art; it’s a learned skill and anyone can learn to meditate, regardless of age.
5 Benefits of meditation backed by science
There are several proven benefits to meditating regularly. Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can improve all sorts of mental health problems. From easing anxiety and depression to stalling memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients, here are our top 5 benefits of meditation.
1. Slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
Although many people dismiss lapses in memory recall as a side effect of growing older, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest memory loss is a natural side-effect of aging. On the contrary, forgetting valuable memories doesn’t have to be the new normal for older adults.
Meditation has been proven to improve memory recall in adults in as little as eight weeks. Research also shows promising results in the use of mindfulness to slow the progression of cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Patients who practiced mindfulness exercises reported reductions in cognitive decline and stress levels, and overall improvements to their quality of life.
Mindfulness isn’t only beneficial for those diagnosed with cognitive conditions, either. Studies have also shown that caregivers of those with cognitive impairments can benefit from the stress reduction of practicing meditation. In other words, everyone can benefit from the boost to cognitive centers of the brain.
2. Improves focus and keeps your brain sharp
Practicing mindfulness can keep your brain active and in good shape, no matter how good your memory is. You don’t have to be a seasoned expert. Even beginners can reap the benefits of mindfulness meditation.
In one study, participants who listened to a 10-minute meditation tape experienced increased attention spans and focus when completing a test compared to those who didn’t meditate beforehand. One researcher further confirmed that people who meditate regularly consistently perform better on focus-related tasks. The same study also found that meditation calms the areas of the brain associated with mind-wandering and spontaneous thoughts, helping you stay focused on what you are doing in the present.
3. Combats insomnia
Getting a good night’s rest is more important than ever for seniors and older adults. Sleep is the vital period when our minds cleanse themselves of harmful waste. Yet current research estimates 10-30% of people are affected by chronic insomnia, with older adults showing more susceptibility to sleep disturbances.
A randomized trial found that mindfulness meditation significantly improved sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults. The lowered stress levels provided by meditation helps clear your mind from troubling thoughts, which can make sleep come easier. If you have trouble sleeping at night, turn off your screens and try meditating for a few minutes before bed.
4. Fights anxiety
Although everyone worries from time to time, harboring too much stress in your body can be unhealthy. According to researchers, anywhere from 3-14% of all older adults meet the diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder. Unchecked anxiety and stress can worsen health conditions like fibromyalgia and lead to other mental health problems like depression.
If you want to take control of your anxious thoughts, meditation may be the solution. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can alleviate symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and reduce stress levels, helping you clear your mind of fears and worries.
5. Improves depression and overall mood
Loneliness was already a common problem among older adults and retirees, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse. Going out in public and visiting your family isn’t an option for many older adults, and the isolation can worsen feelings of loneliness and despair
Practicing mindfulness can help you manage these difficult emotions and improve your overall mood. Studies have shown that mindfulness training reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation, helping participants be happier in the present moment.
Mindfulness training has been shown to help reduce feelings of depression in adults. Those who practiced meditation therapy reported fewer symptoms of depression compared to their counterparts who didn’t meditate at all. Practicing mindfulness every day reminds you not to stress over every little thing, helping you stay calmer and more in control of your emotions.
How to start a mindfulness meditation practice
You don’t need any special equipment or training to get started. All you need is a comfortable place to sit and the willingness to give it a try. Here’s a quick guide to get you started:
1. Find a quiet space where you can relax, free from distractions.
If you’re inside, make sure that all televisions and electronic devices are turned off.
2. Sit in a comfortable position and breathe gently.
3. Pay attention to each inhale and exhale.
4. Focus on all the sensations of your body as you breathe.
5. Release any tensions you may be holding until you are completely relaxed.
6. Continue to breathe in and out as you focus on your body’s inner sensations.
7. If your mind wanders, that’s ok. Just re-focus on your breathing and start again.
8. Keep going for 5-10 minutes or as long as you’d like to meditate.
Try to meditate at the same time every day to establish a routine. If you don’t want to sit in silence, you can find guided sessions via apps on your smart devices, or you can play some calming music to help you focus. For added benefits, try meditating outside on the porch or in a garden. Doing your daily session in nature can calm you even further, helping you make the most of your mindfulness practice.
The bottom line
Mindfulness meditation is one of the most positive things you can do for your mental health and emotional well-being. It doesn’t take long to do, either. Having a simple routine to keep your mind in-shape can show benefits across all areas of your life. From improving memory recall to lowering stress levels and improving your sleep, practicing meditation can keep you more engaged in the present moment, helping you stay happy and calm during the best years of your life.
Aviv Clinics delivers a highly effective, science-based treatment protocol to enhance brain performance and improve symptoms of conditions such as traumatic brain injuries, fibromyalgia, Lyme, and dementia. The Aviv Medical Program’s intensive treatment protocol uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy and takes a holistic approach that includes brain training to achieve optimal results. Based on over a decade of research and development, the Aviv Medical Program is customized to your needs.