Mindfulness has many benefits. The practice of opening awareness and being present in the current moment is a wonderful way to connect with the people around us, develop compassion, be more productive, and have better concentration. But did you know that mindfulness has many potential health benefits as well?
In the last 30 years, there have been increasing numbers of scientific studies that have tried to examine why mindfulness is so beneficial. Scientists are attempting to quantify these benefits, often looking at small segments of the population to evaluate how mindfulness is working.
You might not be surprised to know that mindfulness can ease stress and anxiety, but did you know that there have been scientific evidence that links mindfulness with healthy hearts, that mindfulness may help people overcome addiction and eating disorders, and it may even provide relief from chronic pain?
There’s no pharmaceutical company that benefits when you practice mindfulness. You don’t need to see a doctor. It’s completely free, and you can start today. As you will see in this article, the benefits of mindfulness are many!
This article provides a quick look at the numerous ways that mindfulness has been shown to promote all-around, mental, and physical health. The studies discussed in this article are by no means comprehensive. Take a look around the internet—you’ll find a lot more.
It is important to note that, while this research is encouraging, the benefits they suggest may not be experienced by all practitioners. In fact, some people who practice mindfulness may have adverse effects and most people will experience some level of discomfort with their practice. Awaken Pittsburgh offers a supportive community in which to hold a full range of experiences. Awaken Pittsburgh does not offer mindfulness as an alternative to traditional medical and psychological treatment; it is a compliment to these approaches.
Mindfulness is the art of deliberately paying attention to what’s happening within you and around you with curiosity, openness and acceptance.
How Can Mindfulness Benefit Mental Health?
Mindfulness is a proven strategy for relieving symptoms of a variety of mental health problems, from stress, depression, eating disorders, addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Alzheimer’s and memory-related disorders, and many others. We will discuss many of these in the following paragraphs.
Relieve from depression and increased happiness
One 2013 meta-evaluation examined 209 studies encompassing 12,000 participants about Mindfulness-based Therapy (MBT) programs, with a conclusion that those studies have proven to be “especially effective” for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.
A more recent, 2019 study examined 1151 adults and showed that mindfulness was related to lower levels of depression and anxiety both directly and indirectly. Although the data revealed that the estimated number of hours of mindfulness meditation did not correlate to “less depression,” participants did indicate that they felt more mindful as a result of more practice.
A recent study in New Zealand during COVID lockdown showed that individuals who had a mindfulness practice going into the lockdown crisis reported significantly less anxiety and stress during weeks and months of mandated lockdown.
Lastly, measuring perceived happiness levels is one way that researchers have tried to approach examining depression symptoms. However, measuring happiness is often a challenge in scientific studies because it’s not a tangible health outcome, such as blood pressure measurements. One method that scientists try to examine happiness is by having study participants self-report on parameters like perceived joyful feelings and emotional distress. One study determined that the ability to “savor the moment” was amplified when the participant was practicing mindfulness strategies. This is one way to measure happiness.
A tool for combatting PTSD
Mindfulness has had a lot of traction in the news in recent years about its positive effects on people who suffer from trauma. Studies involving veterans who have returned from active combat duty have been an easy-to identify target audience for these types of studies.
A 2016 study involving clinical trials with military veterans indicated that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was effective in decreasing PTSD symptoms, reducing relapsing rates, helpful for reducing stress, and improving overall, health-related quality of life.
A subsequent 2017 study involving veterans of Operating Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom with PTSD indicated that mindfulness based stress reduction therapies helped to improve PTSD symptoms, including for 6 months afterwards. In 2021, a meta-analysis of 1902 related studies showed that mindfulness meditation has a “significantly larger effect on alleviating military-related PTSD symptoms compared with control conditions.”
Effective in overcoming substance abuse
In 2020, researchers conducted another meta-analysis of 902 publications and 30 studies to examine the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions as a treatment possibility for those with substance abuse. The evaluation showed that these mindfulness strategies were indeed effective as evidence-based treatments for substance use disorders by reducing the frequency and quantity of alcohol and drug use, substance-related problems, cravings for use, and increasing the rate of abstinence.
Young people drinking alcohol is a problem in our society, and there have been specific studies that have examined how mindfulness can help mitigate these problems among college-aged adults. One interesting study examined why students drink in the first place and illustrated that mindfulness can be linked to less problematic drinking. A separate study identified mindfulness-based programs as one way that alcohol problems could be mitigated among college-age students.
Helpful in overcoming eating disorders
A recent, 2022 study indicated that mindfulness may have successful, long-term results as compared to lifestyle changes, but it’s less clear whether mindfulness has any short-term weight loss success.
One reason for the effectiveness of mindfulness may be found in tendencies for rumination in those with eating disorders. Mindfulness brings awareness to when someone ruminates, which is a trigger to stop cyclical thinking. However, the studies about how mindfulness can be effective for those with obesity and binge eating disorders is a little more murky.
This is a promising area for future research, and although several meta-analyses have been completed in this field, almost all of them say that there are lack of controls to offer real comparison. That being said, initial results are promising.
How Can Mindfulness Benefit Physical Health?
Emerging scientific studies are showing equally positive correlations between mindfulness practices and physical health. Recent studies have looked at the role mindfulness has on heart health, pain management, gastrointestinal problems, immune responses, cell aging, and much more. It’s hard to imagine how mindfulness would have any bearing on back pain whatsoever, but studies are showing that there is a link, and it’s a good one. We will discuss some of these areas in the paragraphs below.
Mindfulness is associated with healthy hearts
Heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in the United States every year. In a 2013 study, 53 people with pre-hypertension were either put into a group that taught mindfulness meditation or a program that taught muscle relaxation. Those who learned mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
A similar study two years later came to the same conclusion. A meta-analysis from 2017 published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded that there is evidence to suggest that mindfulness can be an adjunct treatment for coronary disease and prevention. Mindfulness is even good for healthy hearts and is a great way to increase your chances of surviving a heart attack.
Mindfulness can be a treatment for chronic pain
Perhaps one of the first scientific study examining the effects of mindfulness on physical health was in 1985, led by Jon Kabat-Zinn et al. The study showed overwhelmingly that mindfulness training decreased a patient’s reliance of pain medication as well as reductions in present-moment pain, inhibition of activity by pain, symptoms, mood disturbance, and psychological symptomatology. Since then, researchers have repeatedly found similar results, and some studies have tried to determine why mindfulness is so helpful in alleviating chronic pain. When compared to treatment alone, mindfulness practices plus treatment reduced the severity of back pain for 88 patients in a 2015 study and also for 342 patients in a 2016 study.
Mindfulness can impact immune response
There have been several studies that have looked at the effects of mindfulness on those with HIV, who have reduced T-cells. A 2009 study showed a correlation between mindfulness meditation training and buffering CD4+ T lymphocycte declines. Alternatively, a 2012 study found that meditation had more significant positive effects on acute respiratory infection illnesses. Furthermore, mindfulness has a correlation to decreased cortisol levels that present at times of stress. Those lower cortisol levels impacted immune response positively in a study examining those with early stage breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Mindfulness can promote cognitive functioning
When people age, cognitive functions decline naturally. But mindfulness may be able to slow that cognitive decline, even in people with Alzheimer’s Disease. A 2017 study looked at brain function in healthy, older adults. Research suggested that meditation may increase attention. In this study, people 55 to 75 years old spent eight weeks practicing either focused breathing meditating or a control activity.
Those that had breath training had significantly better attention on the Stroop test—a test that examines attention and emotional control. Those same patients had more activation in the brain. Other studies have noticed a connection between meditation and memory capacity and psychomotor function.
The benefits don’t stop there. Mindfulness has shown to have a positive relationship to healthy body weight, increased cognitive improvements, and ability to cope with grave, lifelong illnesses.
In addition to these studies, there has been additional research linking positive effects of mindfulness on:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (and another study here)
- Type 2 Diabetes
How Can You Take Advantage of the Benefits of Mindfulness?
Anyone and everyone can experiment with and explore the benefits of a regular mindfulness practice. There have been countless studies that have identified a positive correlation between mindfulness and overall health, in addition to mental health and physical health. Mindfulness helps to keep a healthy body and mind in good operating condition, but for those that suffer from some disorders, mindfulness may be able to help.
Some of the ways that mindfulness has been shown to help those who are suffering from maladies includes:
- As a pathway for breaking bad habits;
- For drawing awareness of how bad habits and bad actions creates poor healthy outcomes;
- As a way of managing stress and lowering the hormones associated with stress;
- As a way of managing emotions;
- As a way of identifying and releasing negative thoughts and patterns of negative thoughts;
- As a way of nourishing all of one’s life, including relationship-building, which greatly contributes to holistic health
Awaken Can Help You Get Started
Awaken Pittsburgh offers mindfulness training for all skill levels, including beginners just like you. Our introductory program introduces a spectrum of practices that can benefit all levels. Once you’re on your way, we offer programs to build your mindfulness practice into long-term habits.
Through our proprietary approach, Mindful Connections™, we offer essential, evidence-based mindfulness trainings designed to meet many needs—from individuals looking to deepen their practice, to educators, to public safety teams and others working in high-stress professions.