3 unexpected benefits of mindfulness


Forget your green juices, fad diets and fasting — the health movement that you need to be paying attention to is mindfulness. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist practices and meditation, but is primarily defined as “a technique you can learn which involves noticing what’s happening in the present moment, without judgement”, according to Mind.

Mindfulness takes many shapes, but is often practised through meditative exercises, which help to soothe the mind and body. Techniques such as yoga, pilates and breathing workouts capitalise on the unique role that exercise plays in our mental well-being.

Fitness blogger Naturally Sassy sheds some light on this, explaining “all the extra blood and oxygen in your body is great for your brain, making you feel more alert, awake, and focused during, and after, a workout”. And exercises also trigger chemical releases in the brain, she continues, such as serotonin — “a natural mood stabiliser which helps reduce depression and anxiety”.

So, that’s how mindfulness exercises work — but what other health benefits do they offer? According to the existing literature, there are quite a few. Here’s our rundown of the top unexpected benefits of practising mindfulness.

1. Chronic pain relief

Mindfulness has been shown to improve ratings of chronic pain, a common symptom associated with health conditions including endometriosis, arthritis and fibromyalgia. Though not often discussed, it’s estimated that around 34% of the adult population in the UK suffers with chronic pain.

However, promising research has demonstrated that mindful meditation treatment is able to improve pain management and even cease the use of pain medications through ongoing practice, according to Mayo Clinic Health System.

There are a number of underlying brain mechanisms that are thought to be responsible for the alleviation of pain, which mindfulness targets. Attentional switching is one — referencing the ability to disengage from a painful stimulus — , which in tandem with selective attention — the ability to reroute focus to a different stimulus — may help chronic pain sufferers to detach themselves from the sensation of physical pain.

2. Dementia symptom alleviation

Mindfulness interventions may also offer some hope to those suffering from dementia, which is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms of age-related cognitive decline. This includes deficits in memory, language and decision-making. Dementia currents affects around 55 million people globally, presenting a growing public health concern as populations continue to age.

Existing trials for dementia-targeted mindfulness interventions are optimistic. One review assessed the outcomes for those predisposed to dementia and found that mindfulness treatment showed a “trend toward improvement of cognition, quality of life, and well-being for people in the mindfulness condition” compared to an untreated control group. What’s more, the intervention was linked to less memory deterioration and fewer depressive symptoms.

As a result, it’s concluded that mindfulness practice could help to mitigate common symptoms of dementia, offering relief from prevalent cases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Insomnia reduction

Insomnia is a disorder that means you regularly have trouble falling or staying asleep, and may consequently struggle with fatigue or other impairments to your daily life. Presenting as an acute or long-term condition, many of us encounter bouts of insomnia during stressful periods — the NHS advises that around a third of Brits will experience an episode at some point in their life.

Mindfulness meditation has been linked with improved sleep quality in those with chronic insomnia, according to Sleep Foundation, and is recommended by some outlets as a primary treatment. Mindfulness promotes body-mind relaxation and the reduction of physiological arousal, and so the act is inherently conducive to falling asleep. As well as this, mindful self-reflection can help to reduce the rumination and distress experienced by those that are aware of their insomnia, further improving sleep quality and reducing disturbances.

So, mindfulness boasts a number of huge benefits for those struggling with illness, as well as promoting good body and mind health in those that are fortunate enough not to be. It’s more than just a health trend, and a far cry from a fad — in fact, it could change your life.


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