Mindfulness and meditation … do they really work?
The fact is, science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation.
Before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when we say “mindfulness” and “meditation.”
“Meditation” is the ancient practice of connecting the body and mind to become more self-aware and present. It’s often used to calm the mind, ease stress and relax the body.
Practicing “mindfulness” is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It’s defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.”
Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. I’m going to discuss a few studies below and refer to this type of meditation as “mindfulness” for the rest of the post.
The link between mindfulness and health = stress reduction
Have you heard the staggering statistics on how many doctors’ visits are due to stress? Seventy-five to ninety percent!
So, if you ask me, it makes a ton of sense that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues, too.
Mindfulness reduces inflammation, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and improves sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.
Let’s briefly go over the research in three main areas: mood, weight and gut health. But know that the research on the health benefits of mindfulness is branching into many other exciting new areas as well.
Mindfulness for mood
The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.
In one study, people who took part in an 8-week mindfulness program showed a greater improvement in symptoms, according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale,” when compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It seems that mindfulness training played a key role in lowering symptoms.
Other studies show that for some people who have mild to moderate symptoms of depression, mindfulness produces effects that are similar to those produced by antidepressant medications.
While mindfulness isn’t a full-fledged cure, it can certainly help to improve moods.
Mindfulness for weight
Studies show that people who use mind-body practices, including mindfulness, have lower BMIs (Body Mass Indices).
How can this be?
One way mindfulness is linked with lower weight is due to stress-reduction. Mindfulness can reduce stress-related and emotional overeating. It can also help reduce cravings and binge eating.
Another way mindfulness can have a positive influence on weight is due to “mindful eating.” Mindful eating is a “nonjudgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating.”
It’s the practice of being more aware of food and the eating process. It’s listening more deeply to how hungry and full you actually are. It’s not allowing yourself to be distracted with other things while you’re eating, such as wondering what’s on TV or checking your smartphone.
In one study, people who reported having higher levels of everyday mindfulness were more mindful eaters, and they reported having smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods as well. So it seems that more mindful eating may lead to eating less junk.
Mindfulness about food and eating can have some great benefits for your weight.
Mindfulness for gut health
Recent studies show a link between stress, stress hormones and changes in gut microbes (your friendly bacteria and other microoranisms that help your digestion). In theory, mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the gut’s microbes.
Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be linked with both stress and problems with gut microbes. In one study, people with IBS, who received mindfulness training showed greater reductions in IBS symptoms than a group of people who received standard medical care.
The research here is just beginning to reveal the important link between stress, gut health and how mindfulness can help.
To sum up: science is confirming some amazing health benefits resulting from the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation in regard to moods, weight, gut health and more.
So what about you? Do you regularly include mindfulness meditation in your life? If so, have you experienced benefits? If not, would you consider trying it?
Please let us know, and share your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.