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Mindfulness --- Top 10 Health Benefits
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March 18, 2013, last updated March 25, 2015
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

If we believe the mindfulness experts, being mindful and “in the moment”
helps improve mood, emotional intelligence, thinking skills, self control and
self esteem among many other aspects of our lives. Mindfulness may even
help sufferers from certain diseases feel better.

Mindfulness has received a good deal of press recently, moving the concept
away from an obscure Buddhist practice to a mainstream idea in
psychotherapy and self-help. But are the reported benefits of mindfulness to
be believed? Can mindfulness help improve your physical health as well as
your mental health? And how?

What is Mindfulness?

Called "being present" or "living in the now", mindfulness is difficult to pin
down as a concept because it can refer to a psychological state, a set of
practices that promote this state, a way of processing information, or a
character trait.

To put it simply, mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness of your
experience in the present. Mindfulness “means paying attention in a
particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”,
according to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding Director of the Center for
Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of
Massachusetts Medical School.

Mindfulness may be reached by practicing meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and
many other disciplines yet also by simply paying attention to where you are
now, in the moment. By focusing our minds, non-judgmentally, on the
present moment we become more aware of our feelings and actions without
worrying about the past or the future.

How to Practice Mindfulness

It all sounds so simple, yet in practice it can be difficult – how exactly do you
stay mindful in the present moment with all you have to do and think about?

Brown University Health Education suggests practicing mindfulness-based
meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi, and also adding mindfulness to your daily

When walking, taking a shower, or completing another everyday task like
brushing your teeth,
be aware of every sensation. When walking, notice the
sensation of the sidewalk beneath your feet, the sound of your steps and
the smell of the air.

Notice how the water feels in the shower, or how the toothpaste tastes. If
you find your mind drifting, bring it back to the present moment by
concentrating on specific sensations.

In fact, coming back to "now" after you notice yourself drifting is one of the
key tools of mindfulness. All of us drift. All of us get distracted.  But being
mindful means noticing that you're drifting and directing yourself, without
judgement or recrimination, gently back to the here and now.  With practice,
you'll discover that you get distracted less and less.

You can also take part in courses on mindfulness meditation which guide you
through the process of meditating in the moment.

Mindfulness meditation is said to improve many aspects of our physical and
mental health. We looked at recent scientific studies to see how health and
well-being are affected by mindfulness, and whether the practice is a
beneficial addition to a healthy life.

Top 10 Health Benefits of Mindfulness

1. Mindfulness for Effective Stress Reduction

We’re all looking to reduce stress in our lives and experts say mindfulness is
a good way to reach a calmer state. Mindfulness is as effective as cognitive-
behavioral stress reduction in reducing stress in people suffering from
psychological problems, according to a 2008 study from the University of
New Mexico.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction took the form of an eight-week course
of meditation, yoga and body scanning exercises and participants reported
significant improvements in levels of stress and depression. And it seems
mindfulness therapy is not just for people with a psychological or stress

Mindfulness-based stress reduction – a mindfulness meditation - is able to
reduce stress levels in healthy people, according to a 2009 study from the
Institute of Psychiatry, University of Bologna, Italy. Mindfulness was also
shown to reduce obsessive or ruminative thinking as well as anxiety.

Mindfulness Can Help Treat Depression

In the studies on stress, mindfulness was also shown to improve mood and
lessen anxiety. Many experts use mindfulness meditation as a treatment for
depression, often alongside standard medical treatment. Mindfulness-based
cognitive therapy is a potentially effective treatment for reducing anxiety and
depressive mood symptoms in patients with generalized anxiety disorder,
according to 2008 research from Weill Cornell Medical College, New York.
And it has also been shown to reduce relapses in patients with major
depression (Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit,
Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000.)

First-time mothers who are mindful of the emotional and physical changes
they experience during pregnancy feel better and have healthier babies than
women who are not mindful, according to 2012 research from Harvard
University. In the study mothers-to-be were instructed in how to be mindful
of subtle changes in sensations and feelings each day. These moms reported
less emotional distress and a more positive mood up to a month after birth.

Mindfulness may work to improve mood states by reducing distracting and
potentially stressful thoughts, allowing the mindfulness practitioner to
benefit from less mental distress and more positive focus, according to a
2007 study by the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program, Clinical Psychology,
University of California San Diego. Mindfulness was compared with
relaxation techniques and mindfulness participants demonstrated significant
decreases in distractive thoughts and behaviors.

Memory Boost from Mindfulness

It’s not just depression and stress levels that can improve following
mindfulness practice; your memory could take a boost too. In a 2010 study
by the University of Pennsylvania into the benefits of mindfulness for a
military group in a highly stressful deployment, the military group that took
part in eight weeks of mindfulness meditation experienced an increase in
working memory capacity. Researchers suggested that consistent practice
could protect against memory impairments associated with high-stress

Mindfulness Improves Your Focus and Concentration

Being in the present moment and spending time appreciating current
experience and sensations improves focus, according to 2012 research from
Liverpool John Moore’s University, UK. Participants reported an improved
ability to focus attention and suppress unwanted and distracting information.

Being mindful also helps increase the ability to sustain concentration and
attention, according to a 2010 study from Wake Forest University School of
Medicine, Winston-Salem. Researchers in this study found that a brief
session of meditation training (four lessons) increased working memory and

How Mindfulness Helps Decrease Inflammation

While it may seem obvious that mindfulness could help you with focus,
memory and mood, what is not immediately clear is that mindfulness could
also help people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions like
rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

A 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the Center for
Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, showed mindfulness
meditation was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation than
a program of therapy without any mindfulness elements.

Mindfulness Promotes a Change in Immune Function

Could mindfulness meditation change the way your immune system works?
According to a 2003 study from the Department of Psychology, University of
Wisconsin, a short program (eight weeks) of mindfulness meditation
changes immune function in positive ways, and also improves brain function.
At the end of the program participants were vaccinated with the influenza
vaccine and researchers found significant increases in antibodies in those
that completed the mindfulness training.

Does Mindfulness Prevent Cellular Aging?

Could meditation and focusing on the present moment actually slow the rate
at which your cells age? According to 2009 research from the University of
California San Francisco this is true. Researchers suggest that mindfulness
meditation, which shifts the focus from stress to a more positive state of
mind, helps protect telomeres – the caps on the end of chromosomes.
Shortened telomere length is linked to chronic stress exposure and
depression, and contributes to cellular aging.

Reduce Your Pain with Mindfulness

One beneficial outcome from mindfulness meditation is pain reduction,
according to many experts. The practice of mindfulness meditation engages
many parts of the brain that alter the subjective experience of pain,
according to a 2011 study by Wake Forest University School of Medicine,
Winston-Salem and Marquette University, Milwaukee.

After four days of mindfulness meditation, participants reported a reduction
in pain unpleasantness by 57 percent and intensity of pain by 40 percent.

And according to a 2012 study from George E. Wahlen VAMC and University
of Utah, Salt Lake City focusing on the moment-by-moment experience has
an important role to play in pain management.

The implications are encouraging. Mindfulness may help in controlling pain
fibromyalgia, arthritis and back strain.

Mindfulness Helps You Lose Weight

Research is just beginning on the use of mindfulness in weight control. What
we do know is that if you eat while you are distracted, you tend to eat

The opposite of distracted eating is "attentive eating", a form of mindfulness
therapy. Being "present" as you eat, focusing on the food in front of you,
rather than the TV or something else, reduces the total amount you eat at
each meal.

A recent study confirms the connection between attentive eating and calorie
intake. In 2013, Drs. E. Robinson and P. Aveyard  from the University of
Birmingham in the UK set out to discover whether attentive eating can help
in weight loss.  They assembled all exiting studies on the subject --some 24
studies in all -- to sift through the evidence.

What they found was surprising. Eating while you are distracted actually has
two bad effects on total calories. First, distracted eating increases the
amount that you eat at the meal in front of you. Those who were distracted
ate a bit more than they would have otherwise. But they also found a
second effect. Those who ate while distracted also ate more later in the day.

Practice mindful attentive eating whenever you can. It can help to reduce
your calorie intake throughout the day. (Read more about
tips to help
control overeating.)

Use Mindfulness to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Several studies have found that meditation can help lower blood pressure.
Now, studies are beginning to focus of the effectiveness specifically of
mindfulness in lowering
high blood pressure. A 2012 study from Southern
Medical University in Guangzhou, China looked discovered that nurses who
practiced mindfulness for 30 minutes a day for 3 weeks experienced drops in
their systolic blood pressure.

What we don't know is whether the effects of mindfulness therapy on
systolic blood pressure are temporary or long term. To answer this all
important question, more research studies are needed. (Read more about
foods that lower blood pressure.)

Mindfulness Can Inhibit Drug Abuse?

Several studies have found that mindfulness can help to inhibit the urge for
substance abuse. And, in 2013, another study went further. It found that if
you examine drug abusers, you will discover that many have a "mindfulness

In this study from the Department of Psychology at the University of
Tennessee in Knoxville, researchers examined the health records of 107
patients who were substance abusers. The records were examined to
determine whether the patients showed that they were "de-centered" or
whether they displayed "curiosity". Both being "de-centered" and "curious"
are indications of being mindful. A person is said to be de-centered when
they recognize that they are different from their thoughts and therefore that
they do not personalize each and every thought or thing that happens to
them. The opposite of being de-centered is to be overly absorbed in your
own thoughts.

De-centered people also are said to "approach each experience by trying to
accept it, whether it is positive or negative". A person is said to be curious
when they are interested in learning more of why they think a certain way.

When the mindfulness scores of the 107 substance abusers were compared
with the scores of non subtance abusers, the researchers discovered that
the non-abusers scores were twice as high as the substance abusers. In
other words, substance abusers were half as "mindful" as non-abusers.

What do we take away from all of this? Mindfulness is another way of saying
stay in the present,
be present in your life. Being present is just showing up
for yourself, instead of being away from yourself, away from your present
life. For when you let the past or the future dominate your every waking
thought, in effect you have robbed yourself of the present.

(Contributions to this article were made by Susan Callahan, Health Editor).

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