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10 Amazing Benefits of Mindfulness Backed by Science

10 Amazing Benefits of Mindfulness Backed by Science

Mindfulness, the practice of staying aware and in sync with yourself and your surroundings often characterized by sitting in total silence with legs crossed, eyes shut and palms facing upwards, would seem like something only monks would appreciate. But mindfulness is a practice that all of us could use, especially in our stressful, fast-paced, 9-to-5 city lives.

Science actually suggests that the benefits of mindfulness-based meditation can be phenomenal. Here are ten amazing benefits of mindfulness backed by science you should know about.

1. Mindfulness eases aches and pains

If you struggle with back, neck or other body aches and pains, part of that pain may be in your head. That’s according to a 2011 study published in the April issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. The study found that just 80 minutes of mindful meditation could cut pain perception nearly in half.

This study corroborates with another study conducted at the University of Montreal that studied 13 Zen meditators, all of whom had at least 1,000 hours of practice, compared with a group of non-meditators to see whether regular meditation practice would affect perception of pain.

The results were overwhelming—the Zen meditators had a higher pain threshold than the non-meditators.

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2. Mindfulness enhances our sex life

How, you ask? By helping bring our thoughts back into the present moment. Research published in 2011 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that mindfulness meditation training – where a person learns how to bring thoughts into the present moment – can enhance a woman’s sexual experience (and by extension some men’s sexual experience.)

Apparently, self-judgemental chatter often fills a woman’s mind during sex, preventing her from enjoying the full sexual experience. However, college women who meditated were quicker to become aroused when viewing erotic photos compared with non-meditating women.

3. Mindfulness makes us smarter and improves decision-making

A 2012 UCLA study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification, or folding of the brain’s cortex than people who don’t meditate. The extra folds may allow the meditators to process information faster than others and avoid ruminating on past events, which can distort our thinking and decision making process.

Practicing as little as one 15-minute focused breathing meditation can get you out of your head, remove the bias from your brain and help you think more clearly.

4. Mindfulness improves moods

In another eye-opening study, a group of U.S marines preparing for deployment spent two hours each week practicing mindfulness meditation training for a period of eight weeks. These marines showed marked improvements in moods and working memory, which allows for short-term retrieval and storage of information, compared to marines who did not meditate.

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The researchers observed that practicing mindfulness meditation in highly stressful and emotional situations like going off to war allowed meditators to stay alert and in the moment without being overly emotional. It gave them a kind of “mental armor.”

5. Mindfulness increases our ability to feel empathy and benevolence for others

Have you ever wondered how the Dalai Lama remains kindhearted and compassionate despite the raging violence tearing apart his home country? The secret to the exiled Tibetan leader’s unwavering magnanimity may lie in mindfulness-based meditation.

A study conducted at Northeastern University College of Science showed that even a brief meditation intervention made participants 50% more compassionate. In yet another study published in 2008 in the journal PLOS ONE, both experienced and non-experienced meditators who practiced compassion meditation, which is widely practiced by Tibetan leaders, showed more brain activity in regions linked with empathy while meditating than when not meditating.

6. Mindfulness boosts attention span and focus

The seemingly nonsensical Zen practice of “thinking about not thinking” has been shown to boost people’s attention span by liberating the mind from distraction. In a 2008 brain-scan study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the Zen-meditation training where a person stays alert and aware of their posture and breathing, while dismissing wondering thoughts revealed different activities in parts of the brain linked with spontaneous burst of thoughts and wondering minds.

It was observed that brains were quicker to return to the “Zen mode” even after being distracted for a considerable amount of time compared to brains that had not done any meditation training. People’s ability to focus and hold attention even on boring stimulus improves significantly with mindfulness.

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7. Mindfulness increases resilience and equanimity

Richie Davidson, a neuroscientist, and Paul Ekman – one of the world’s leading researchers on emotions – performed a series of studies on The Dalai Lama’s right hand man Lama Oser – a European monk with over 30 years of meditative experience.

The researchers found that Lama Oser’s left-to-right prefrontal cortex activity ratio (measured with an MRI scanner and compared to a sample of 175 people) was quite literally off the chart. His prefrontal cortex activity ratio asymmetry indicated insane levels of equanimity, well-being, and resilience to setbacks, all of which were largely attributed to his discipline of mindfulness.

8. Mindfulness slows down neurodegenerative diseases

A pilot study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests that the positive brain changes associated with mindful meditation like stress reduction may be the answer for slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Alzheimer’s patients who took part in the study showed less cognitive decline after an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program than a second group who did not take the program.

What’s more, patients who took part in the mindfulness-based program reported higher levels of well-being, which incidentally also helps accelerate recovery.

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9. Mindfulness enhances creativity

The two main factors that determine levels of creativity are: divergent thinking (coming up with lots of ideas) and convergent thinking (solidifying those ideas into one brilliant concept.)

Researchers at Leiden University led by Cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato studied the effects of two different types of meditation practices on divergent and convergent thinking. They found that mindful meditation significantly improved both divergent and convergent thinking.

Interestingly, the type of meditation performed had an impact on which type of creative thinking was improved. For example, free association meditation improved divergent thinking more than focused attention meditation.

10. Mindfulness reduces feeling of loneliness

A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University led by J. David Creswell looked at 40 older adults and found that just 30 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks decreased their feelings of loneliness. That’s significant because decreased feelings of loneliness coupled with increased compassion and resilience can lead to an incredibly happy, content and fulfilling life of meaning.

As Creswell reminds us, “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.”

Featured photo credit: Paolo Neoz via flickr.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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