If you could sit still for 10 minutes a day and know that it would help you feel more youthful and energized, would you? While meditation is more than just sitting still, studies have shown that it can help you stay both physically and mentally young.
Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention to calm your body and mind—by being aware of the thoughts that normally take up space in your mind and the sensations that take place in your body, you can increase your mental awareness.
The benefits of meditation
There are many benefits to the practice of meditation, many of which can help you age gracefully.
Perhaps the most important benefit of mediation is reducing stress levels. Studies have shown that meditation helps to lower cortisol levels. By reducing levels of cortisol—the primary stress hormone—meditation effectively decreases stress. The same study found that the benefits of meditation may not fade with time, meaning you can continue to reduce your stress levels well beyond your meditation session.
One of the amazing things about meditation is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. When you start to feel stressed or find yourself in a stressful situation, take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This small act of meditation can help lower your cortisol levels and reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.
Protect yourself from Alzheimer’s disease
Meditation may also be one of the lifestyle changes you can implement at any age to help protect you from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Stress, anxiety, and depression are all risk factors for dementia. When you participate in meditation practice, you are training your brain to reduce stress and regulate your emotions, effectively improving your mental and brain health now and as you age.
Another study found that the practice of meditation may alter plasma Aβ levels—a blood-based biomarker that has been linked with Alzheimer’s disease. The same study found that those who experienced an increase in plasma Aβ levels also experienced improvements in cognitive function, sleep, mood, and quality of life.
Keep your brain in working order
Meditation is directly linked to a slowing of the cognitive aging process. It helps to improve your attention span and response inhibition and, when done regularly across your lifespan, has the potential to alter your cognitive well-being for life.
Increase your focus
Meditation can also help to increase your focus which can, in turn, help you focus better at work. Furthermore, one study found that practicing mindfulness meditation at work improved participants' overall well-being. Participants completed one 10- to 20-minute guided meditation per day, and the reduced work stress and overall improved well-being had lasting effects.
Increase your emotional intelligence
The connection between mindfulness meditation and emotional intelligence is a powerful benefit of the practice. Meditation can help you become more attuned to your feelings and emotions. You start to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and how they affect your emotions and your actions. As you continue to work on your practice, you will start to find you can be more proactive and responsive to your emotions.
There is also evidence that meditation training can improve telomere regulation. Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten as we age. Studies have found that meditation regulates this process and ultimately contributes to healthy aging in individuals.
How often and for how long should you meditate?
Studies have shown that meditation is most effective when it occurs regularly. Yes, you may experience an immediate burst of energy and clarity when you meditate once in a while, but meditating regularly will help you learn to use it as a stress reduction tool.
When it comes to how long you should meditate, the consensus is that it is a personal choice. For some people, a short practice of just 10 minutes is perfect whereas others need a full 60 minutes to feel the full effect.
Start small and work your way up to a time that feels right for you.
You can’t meditate “wrong”
Meditation may feel intimidating to some—perhaps you’ve tried before but felt like your mind was constantly wandering, or that thoughts keep popping up in your head. But when you notice your mind wandering or thoughts in your mind, you’re on the right track.
Being aware of your thoughts is awareness, and awareness is what you’re working to grow through your meditation practice.
Every time you notice your mind wandering during meditation and you bring it back you are strengthening the muscle needed to help you to bring your focus back to work.
Where should you begin?
If you are new to meditation and not sure where to begin, try starting with a short breathing exercise like The Box practice.
How it works:
- Breathe in for 5 seconds
- Hold your breath for 5 seconds
- Breathe out for 5 seconds
- Hold for 5 seconds
- Repeat for 3 to 5 cycles
This is a great practice for beginners because it can be done anywhere at any time. And the set timing helps you focus.
You can also try one of the many meditation apps that are working to make guided meditations accessible and easy for everyone.
And remember, meditation is not a competitive sport. It’s not about becoming the “best” meditator—it’s about integrating meditation into your everyday life and seeing how that unfolds for you.
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