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10 health benefits of mindfulness

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Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation have a number of health benefits, according to AXA PPP psychological health expert, Eugene Farrell.

’Mindfulness can help you to manage:

  1. Resilience
  2. Stress, anxiety and depression
  3. Heart health
  4. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  5. Pain
  6. Fibromyalgia
  7. Addiction
  8. Mental function
  9. Your immune system
  10. Anger’

“Developing countries have high, and increasing, issues with heart health, mental health problems, relationship breakdown and substance abuse because we live in a culture of busy-ness and constant pressure. We need to slow down,” advises Eugene. "Complementary medicine and therapies often lack formal clinical research,” he says. “Not so with meditation and mindfulness. There have been literally 100s of studies conducted to investigate and examine its benefits, which means that there is now evidence to support the fact that it can help with a variety of health problems. That said, much work is still to be done to explain whether this is cause, effect or a correlation."

Meditation and mindfulness are starting to make a difference to how people think and react in a variety of situations – from school children to professional athletes and even the military. Here are some ways it could help you:

  1. Resilience

    “We can all find ourselves jumping to negative thoughts. This often happens automatically and can take a toll on our mental wellbeing,” says Eugene. “Mindfulness gives us the tools to become aware of this so that we can ‘rewire’ that thinking.”

    Research conducted in America in 2015 also suggests that mindfulness meditation can help with sleep by supporting those who suffer from insomnia. Sleep – alongside other factors, such as building your emotional intelligence – can help you build your resilience.

  2. Stress, depression and anxiety

    A common myth about mindfulness is that it is only good for your physical health, but research suggests this underestimates the practice.

    Researchers at Boston University did an analysis of 39 studies, totalling 1,140 participants, who received mindfulness-based therapy for conditions such as cancer, generalised anxiety disorder and depression. It found mindfulness to be a “promising intervention” for treating anxiety and mood problems.

    A smaller, more recent study, also found that mindfulness is a helpful treatment for supporting adults who have autism spectrum disorder with anxiety and depression.

  3. Heart health

    If you want to look after your heart, maintaining a healthy blood pressure is a good place to start, The American Heart Association now recommends meditation for reducing blood pressure, after a study found that people with heart disease who practised Transcendental Meditation regularly were 48% less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die compared with those who attended a health education class instead.

  4. IBS

    A 2015 study in America found that participating in a nine-week training programme, which included mindfulness and meditation therapy, had a “significant impact” people’s symptoms of IBS and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

  5. Managing pain

    A review of 10 studies in 2011 focused on how mindfulness can help patients manage chronic pain, and the depression that often accompanies it. It found that mindfulness-based therapy could help to reduce pain symptoms and relieve depressive symptoms, but more research is needed to fully establish this.

  6. Fibromyalgia

    In 2007, researchers from Switzerland’s University of Basel Hospital discovered evidence that the mindfulness has the potential to help women who suffer from fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal condition that causes stiff joints, pain and tenderness throughout the body.

  7. Treating addiction

    There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that mindfulness is an effective tool to reduce stress. This helps people with substance addictions as it gives them a healthy coping mechanism, which can steer them away from relapse.

    An interesting study by specialists at the University of Utah in 2017 backed this up. They found that mindfulness is useful in the recovery of chronic pain patients who are at risk of becoming addicted to opiates.

  8. Improving mental function

    Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical School showed that after an eight-week programme, mindfulness training increased the amount of grey matter in subjects' brains. This type of brain tissue is associated with memory, learning, the regulation of emotions and the ability to see the world from multiple perspectives.

    Another review study by researchers at the University of British Colombia showed that eight separate areas of the brain had the potential to be boosted by meditation.

  9. Boosting the immune system

    A 2003 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that people who meditated produced more antibodies when given a flu vaccine compared with participants who did not.

  10. Controlling anger

    “Mindfulness can help us to control our learned response, like anger,” says Eugene, “By learning how to manage these emotions, it helps us to ‘get off the train’ and can improve our relationships.”

Further Reading

Raisin meditation mindfulness exercise

Mindful breathing tips

Everyday mindfulness

Sources

General

How sport is learning from special forces snipers & Navy Seals

Meditation – Heart, brain & creativity

The Benson-Henry Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital

Stress, Anxiety and Depression (and Resilience)

Mindfulness effective for relieving anxiety among nurses

The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review

Creswell et al, “Mindfulness Stress Buffering”

Heart

Basu Ray et al, 2014, "Meditation and Coronary Heart Disease: A Review of the Current Clinical Evidence", Ochsner J,

Transcendental Meditation and blood pressure

Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

IBS

Meditation and IBS
Zernicke et al, 2013, "Mindfulness-based stress reduction for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: a randomized wait-list controlled trial", International Journal of Behavioural Medicine,

Pain

Mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: a systematic review of the evidence

Fibromyalgia

Grossman et al, 2007, "Mindfulness training as an intervention for fibromyalgia: evidence of postintervention and 3-year follow-up benefits in well-being", Psychotherapy and Psychosomantics,

Substance abuse

Witkiewitz, 2005, "Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders", Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy,

Coping with addiction

Mental function

Hölzel et al, 2011,"Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density".
Fox et al, 2015, "Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners". Neuroscience and biobehavioural reviews,

Immune system

Davidson et al, 2003, "Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation". Psychosomatic Medicine  


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