You may have heard that meditation is good for you. But what exactly is meditation, and how can it contribute to healthy aging? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of meditation for older adults.
What is meditation?
Meditation has been around for centuries. It is well studied and practiced around the world by people of all ages, from many different cultures.
Essentially, meditation is an intentional way to calm both the body and mind. While there are many different meditation techniques, in its simplest form, it involves sitting or lying down in a comfortable place, closing your eyes, and focusing on breathing slowly and deeply. Contrary to popular belief, engaging in meditation is not about “emptying the mind,” but rather it’s about trying to focus on one thing (often breathing) while allowing thoughts to come and pass.
What are the benefits of meditation for older adults?
While meditation offers a host of mental and physical benefits for people in all age groups, there are some key effects of meditation that are especially beneficial for senior health and wellness. Here are a few ways meditation may benefit older adults:
Decrease stress levels
We all experience stress, but as we get older, we tend to have less resilience to stress. For seniors, sources of stress may be a chronic illness, the loss of a spouse, or the life changes that come with aging. Meditation can reduce the production of stress hormones such as cortisol while normalizing blood pressure, making it a healthy way to manage stress.
New research finds that deep breathing during meditation can stimulate the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, releasing “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Adding just a few minutes of meditation to your daily routine can lead to mood-boosting benefits, helping you feel refreshed and happier.
When experienced over a long period of time, loneliness may lead to serious health concerns, including an increased risk for mortality. In a UCLA study, older adults who practiced a simple meditation program for eight weeks showed reduced loneliness and decreased inflammation in their immune systems. The promising results of the study suggest that meditation can improve quality of life for those experiencing loneliness.
Improve digestion and circulation
Deep breathing, a key aspect of any type of meditation, is shown to improve blood circulation and oxygen levels. This causes better blood flow to our organs, including the stomach and intestines, which can aid older adults with digestive problems. The extra oxygen boost provided by meditation is also good for the immune system and lungs.
Delay cognitive decline
While more research still needs to be done in this area, one study has found that meditation and breathing exercises may slow the progression of age-related cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe this could be because meditation helps to reduce stress, which is known to exacerbate Alzheimer’s symptoms.
How to get started
Meditation doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Simply dedicating five to ten minutes of your day to concentrate on breathing can help you reap the many benefits of meditation. Meditation is also accessible; it can be done any time, any place. You can even meditate while you’re in bed trying to fall asleep!
If you’re not sure where to begin, ease yourself into the practice of meditation. Meditation techniques are naturally incorporated in exercises such as yoga or tai chi. Listening to a guided meditation on a podcast or smartphone app is another easy way to make meditation a daily practice. The more you meditate, the easier it will become, and the more you will benefit. Try meditating today!