The fact is, science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation on a regular basis.
But before we dive in, let’s just ensure that we understand the same thing when the words “mindfulness” and “meditation” are used.
“Meditation” is the ancient practice of connecting the body and mind to become more self-aware and present. It is often used to calm the mind, ease stress, and relax the body.
Practicing “mindfulness” is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It is defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. I’m going to talk about a few of them below, and refer to it 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? 70 to 90!! So, it makes a ton of sense that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues too.
Mindfulness reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thereby lowering inflammation and improving sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.
Let’s now 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 too.
Mindfulness for mood
The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.
In one study, people who took an 8-week mindfulness program had greater improvement in symptoms according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale.” They were compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It appears that the mindfulness training was key to lowering symptoms.
Other studies show that mindfulness has similar effects as antidepressant medications for some people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.
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 it can work for weight is due to "mindful eating." Mindful eating is a "non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating". It is the practice of being more aware of food and the eating process. It involves 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, like what's on TV or your smartphone.
People with higher mindfulness scores also reported smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods. So it seems that more mindful eating leads to less junk foods.
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 critters 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 the group who received standard medical care.
The research here is just starting to show us the important link between stress, gut health, and how mindfulness can help.
Do you regularly include it in your life? If so, have you seen benefits? If not, would you consider trying it?
If starting a mindfulness practice seems daunting, consider joining the Reset Program and learn to implement this healthy habit, among others nutrition and lifestyle ones! The first step would be to focus on the four keys habits to optimal health outlined in my free e-book.