Meditation is a life-long practice, but that doesn’t mean you’ve missed the boat if you’ve reached a certain age and never tried it before. Senior citizens can especially benefit from regular meditation, and mindfulness has a real and proven positive effect on many health issues faced by older Americans.
First and foremost, meditation is active. While it may not seem on par with a workout like running or swimming, building mental fitness requires the same focus and determination as its physical counterparts. Meditation activates parts of the brain responsible for mood regulation, memory, creativity and stress relief, even if those areas have been resting for years. Just one twenty-minute session a day can carry over into all the rest of the time spent not meditating, which is what makes mental fitness training so beneficial.
For seniors dealing with chronic pain like arthritis or fibromyalgia, meditation fundamentally alters the way the brain processes physical discomfort. If you’ve had a chronic condition, you know full well the mental component that goes along with it: those days where the pain is all you can think about, the time spent lamenting all you could be doing if it weren’t for an aching joint or a stiff neck. Meditation snaps your brain out of its funk, turning on the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that controls happiness) and sending waves of positive energy through your immune system, allowing it to relax and do its job.
In study after study, individuals who complained about various physical conditions self-reported feeling much better after meditating for as little as two months. And it’s not as if meditation simply covers up a continuing, underlying physical malady – those same individuals also showed fewer inflammatory genes and proteins in their blood after undergoing mindfulness training.
Meditation also helps body systems perform as they did in their younger days. From improved digestion to increased lung capacity to better blood circulation, the extra oxygen produced as a result of focused breathing in meditation does wonders for overall health. When the brain trains itself to be more in tune with the body, the results come quickly.
Feelings of loneliness often accompany aging, which may account for why more than a quarter of adults in elder care facilities show signs of anxiety or depression. The beauty of being mindful is that the focus shifts from what’s happened in the past or what may happen in the future to what’s happening right now.
The mind need not decline as the years go by, and meditation sharpens the frontal lobe so that greater attention and emphasis can be placed on the present moment and new memories can be more easily created. That’s part of the reason why regular meditation has been shown to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s in older adults.
There is no age at which the mind cannot benefit from regular meditation practice. If you consider yourself young at heart and want to start feeling young everywhere else, make mindfulness