More calm and less stress. Wellness experts have preached the benefits of mindfulness for years. Through meditation, yoga and breathing exercises, you deliberately bring your attention to the present moment, thoughts and feelings without judgment. But can mindfulness practices offer more than just an unruffled mind?
New research points to yes. In fact, mindfulness-based therapies may help way more than our mindset. Here’s how the practice of being in the moment can go leaps and bounds beyond the brain.
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7 Mindfulness Benefits That Go Beyond the Mind
1. Decrease Those Aches and Pains
If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, you might now be able to add mindfulness to your pain relieving toolkit. A recent study from the University of Washington examined the impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on lower back pain compared to cognitive behavior therapy or traditional back care techniques. MBSR, which includes meditation, body scan and yoga, was found to improve back pain and functioning six months after the program.
And, though more research is needed, another study found that mindfulness meditation may have the power to reduce perceived pain.
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2. Enjoy Your Workouts More
Struggling to start or stick with your gym habit? Mindfulness can help with that. In a study of Dutch participants, researchers studied the link between physical activity, exercise satisfaction and mindfulness. They found that those who rated themselves as being fully absorbed during their workout enjoyed exercising more. Scientists believe that being present and noticing all aspects of your sweat sesh could increase your feelings of satisfaction. And those who were the most satisfied with physical activity also exercised the most. We’ll call that a win-win.
3. Make Healthy Habits Stick
Detoxes, fad diets and apps — you’ve tried it all in an effort to lose weight. But one effective technique for losing weight? Mindfulness. In a recent study, researchers found that mindfulness combined with diet and exercise may help reduce one of the biggest barriers to long-term weight loss – reward-driven eating. By being more aware of hunger and satiety cues, participants were less preoccupied with food and had better control over eating and satiety after the program, which predicted weight loss one year later.
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4. Improve Your Athletic Performance
Olympians and Super Bowl Champions alike practice mindfulness for good reason. Research shows that mindfulness can help improve athletic performance. Those described as being more mindful could concentrate and control their emotions better and set clear goals. And the ability to tune in may help you experience higher states of flow — that feeling of being totally in the moment, when everything clicks and your mind and body act as one.
5. Be a Better Parent
Real talk: Parenthood is hard. But moms who practice mindfulness may be better for it, according to a recent study on mothers of preschool children. Those who reported being more mindful, especially non-judgment, showed lower levels of parental stress, depression and anxiety. Another study of parents, mostly mothers, found that those who were able to show more kindness and compassion in their interactions with their children had lower levels of stress.
And mindfulness may also help during those tricky teenage years. Researchers found that a mindful approach to parenting may improve communication between mothers and adolescents. When mothers didn’t react or judge the information their adolescents shared, the kids were less likely to perceive their parent as overly controlling, improving the relationships between the two.
6. Reduce Bad-for-You Cravings
Quitting smoking or other addictive behaviors is hard. But mindfulness may help you break up with your habit. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found that among smokers wanting to quit, mindful attention to smoking images reduced self-reported cravings as well as activity in the part of the brain related to cravings.
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7. Keep Your Brain Young
It’s inevitable. As we age, our memory starts to slip and our brains seem to function a beat slower. In fact, this process actually starts as early as our 20s! But mindfulness can help keep our brain young and healthy. Researchers from UCLA found that experienced meditators showed a smaller age-related loss of their brain’s gray matter — the part of the brain that contains the most neurons and processes information including signals from our sensory organs — compared to non-meditators. That’s an anti-aging remedy we can definitely get behind.