How often do you just stop and do nothing each day? Not many of us are good at this practice, especially since we live in such a highly productive culture where slowing down is often regarded as laziness. However, the benefits of stopping for just 15 minutes per day and doing nothing can reduce the age of your brain by 25 years! This is a truly remarkable finding that researchers found about 50-year-olds.
Benefits of mindfulness and meditation
The benefits that flow from practicing mindfulness and meditation are vast and range from reducing stress to alleviating pain and insomnia. More and more studies related to the physiological benefits are starting to pop up.
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar has first-hand evidence with the benefits of yoga, which she started after wanting to stretch more. When she first began the practice, Lazar was not sold on these benefits but was soon proven wrong. After practicing yoga for a short period, Lazar found herself better able to handle stressful situations, more open-minded, and compassionate.
The brain and aging
As we get older, our cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that deals with thinking and understanding language, begins to thin. This section of the brain handles decision making and does most of the information processing. Research shows a link between age-related conditions such as thinking and dementia with the thinning of the cerebral cortex. Studies show that the cerebral cortex thins naturally in response to aging, regardless of whether or not there are degenerative diseases present.
Mindfulness changes brain structure
Researchers from several institutions, including Harvard and MIT studied people who had extensive meditation training to see if long-term meditation resulted in physical changes in the brain. Their results demonstrated that meditation might have an impact on the structural areas in the brain that handle sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing. Amazingly, areas that should have been thinner due to the age of participants (40-50 years old), were actually the same thickness as those who were only 20-30 years old.
Eight weeks of meditation validates results
To confirm that people may not have had thicker brains to start with, researchers took people who had not meditated before and put them into an eight-week meditation program. MRI scans were used to measure brain thickness before the meditation program and after the program. Results showed that there was a significant increase in brain matter in participants who completed the program. This suggests that practicing mindfulness/stress-relieving practices can lead to a more youthful brain.
Additional benefits of mindfulness practices
The benefits of mindfulness are huge with as little as 15 minutes a day and include not only a younger brain but also the following:
- Decrease in worry and anxiety
- Reduction in depression
- Increase in energy
- Improvement in irritable bowel condition
- Increased immune function
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower heart rate
- Increased clarity in thinking and making decisions
- Improved academic performance
- Increased ability to handle illness
How to be more mindful
Becoming more mindful each day is a great way to bolster brain and overall health and wellbeing. Here are some easy tips to get started:
- Be more mindful when doing daily activities such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or even eating.
- Begin your day by pausing. Don’t rush into your day as soon as your feet hit the floor. Take time to sit still and greet the morning.
- If you are new to mindfulness, start with just a few silent minutes each day and build up to 15 minutes.
- Be mindful while you wait. Focus on your breath and bring attention to the practice of just breathing while you wait on something or someone.
- Take up yoga. This will train your brain and your body to be mindful.
- Take up meditation. There are numerous ways to meditate. Find the one that works for you and carve out some quiet time each day to practice.