Of course, living in the present is something everyone, regardless of age, should aspire to do. But practicing mindfulness in your golden years is especially beneficial.
If the term “mindfulness” makes you anxious, conjures up notions of some new age hocus-pocus or even has you believing a monk’s zeal and endurance is necessary for success, fear not.
Despite its prevalence in Eastern practices like Buddhism, mindfulness isn’t religious, it’s simply state of being — of being in the present as often as possible, for as long as possible. And while meditation and mindfulness do go hand in hand and meditation is by far the primary tool for becoming more mindful, it’s not a necessity.
According to Mindful, a mission-driven non-profit that’s dedicated to bringing mindfulness to the masses, mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Again, while it isn’t the only technique, meditation is generally agreed upon as the most effective means of cultivating this feeling of being “fully present.” So if you’re looking for tips on how to get started with a mindfulness meditation, this website offers a very useful jumping off point.
Of course, understanding what mindfulness is and actually achieving that state are world’s apart.
In fact, there’s an urban legend about how the inimitable Jane Fonda once paid huge sums of money to bring in a mindfulness expert to “teach her the secret to living in the present.” Though the expert accepted Fonda’s generous payments and travel accommodations, once he was in front of the cultural icon, he told her what was already clear to every mindfulness expert worth his or her salt: “There is no secret path or shortcut to mindfulness.”
“You couldn’t have told me that over the phone?” Jane barked incredulously. (Can’t you just hear Jane saying that?)
“You seemed like you needed to hear it in person,” the expert responded, according to the legend.
The point is mindfulness is challenging. But it’s well worth it, especially when you consider these benefits for seniors:
1. It can help you live longer
Mindfulness can help you live longer. Says who? Science, that’s who. In fact, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologyfollowed a large number of seniors and found a significant decrease of the mortality rates among those who practiced mindfulness meditation (and transcendental meditation).
2. It can make you feel more less lonely, more well-connected
Another study, this one by UCLA, found that seniors who took part in an eight-week meditation program significantly decreased their rates of self-reported loneliness. One theory as to why this occurs according to researchers: Meditation may inhibit gene inflammation, something that has been linked to feelings of loneliness.
3. It may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s
While it’s far from conclusive evidence, a double-blind study at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests meditation and breathing exercises may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe mindfulness meditation/breathing exercises may protect the brain against anxiety and stress, two things believed to worsen the progression of Alzheimer’s.
4. It can reduce your healthcare costs
Research says that senior who practice mindfulness have significantly fewer hospitalizations than those who don’t. Specifically, senior mindfulness meditation practitioners’ “five-year cumulative reduction in payments to physicians was 70% less than the control group’s (non-meditating group),” according to a study in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality.
5. You just feel better
And again, there’s science to back that statement up. Case in point: A study conducted in Thailand supplemented walking therapy for seniors with a meditation component. They found that seniors who engaged in the meditation component had significantly better outcomes than seniors who merely were in the walking group: “Walking meditation was effective in reducing depression, improving functional fitness and vascular reactivity, and appears to confer greater overall improvements than walking without meditation,” the study found.
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