Mindfulness practices offer physical and emotional benefits for healthy aging

Activities such as mindfulness meditation, tai chi and yoga can offer older adults a wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive benefits that promote healthy aging. Researchers have looked at various ways in which these mindfulness practices make a positive difference in the health of seniors.

Boost mood, ease loneliness

Older adults with moderate anxiety and depression who participated in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program improved their mood, had fewer symptoms of depression and were better able to cope with stress related to family issues, according to Toronto’s Rotman Research Institute.

Feeling lonely has been associated with increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and premature death. A UCLA study found that daily practising of mindfulness techniques reduced feelings of loneliness in seniors, while blood tests showed a stronger immune system and less inflammation.

Caring for a family member living with dementia can lead to chronic stress and increased risk health risks for caregivers. A study in The Gerontologist found family caregivers who did mindful meditation becomes less stressed and depressed, and more resilient.

Clearer thinking, better judgement

Practising 25 minutes of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation a day can boost the brain’s executive functions and improve energy levels, according to a 2017 University of Waterloo study. Executive functions include skills such as planning, organizing, focusing, and following through on goals.

A Harvard Medical School study reported that people who participated in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction using meditation and yoga had positive changes, shown in MRI brain scans, associated with more cognitive reserve, less stress and a slowing of cognitive decline.

Prevent falls, protect your heart

Tai chi is sometimes described as meditation in motion. Tai chi improves muscle strength, flexibility and balance, reducing the risk and fear of falls in older adults, says Harvard. People with Parkinson’s disease who practiced Tai Chi had more than 40% fewer falls, according to an Oregon Research Institute study.

People with heart disease who did 20 minutes of meditation twice daily were 48% less likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or die from all causes, according to study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Patients with stress-related illnesses who used relaxation techniques such as tai chi, meditation and yoga as an additional treatment were 43% less like to be hospitalized or need emergency care, reported the journal PLOS one.