Top 5 Ways the Body Benefits from a More Mindful Lifestyle
Mindfulness is gaining a lot of traction in modern psychology, particularly in the treatment of substance abuse disorder and behavioral health. Its understanding as a popular concept is based on an extrapolation of ancient Buddhist ideals: mindfulness figures prominently on the Noble Eightfold Path, where it is believed to be the core principle involved in achieving enlightenment.
Mental health professionals frequently point to such noteworthy positives as heightened focus and concentration, increased mental clarity, and a reduction in general anxiety and stress levels as good reasons to engage in a more mindful lifestyle. However, there are additional benefits to leading a mindful existence—benefits which will make themselves known in positive changes to one’s physical health.
This combination of physiological and psychological benefits, of physical and mental health, is what modern medical professionals sometimes refer to as “wellness.” A philosophy based on wellness is centered, not on solving problems in isolation or addressing individual symptoms one at a time, but on the whole individual. It concerns itself with practices which affect dramatic, positive change to body and mind alike, over time.
Here are five of the positive physiological benefits experienced by the body in response to a mindful lifestyle:
Reduced Heart Rate & Blood Pressure
Cardiovascular health is of great concern to many people, and with good reason. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and the problem is growing steadily worse. A wide range of factors can play into the development and progression of heart disease, including infections, dietary choices, sedentary living, stress, and genetics. Scientific study shows that a more mindful disposition correlates directly to a reduction in cardiovascular disease, possibly due to its effective reduction of stress and anxiety.
Increase in Immune Function
From the controversy over vaccinations, and the debate over genetically modified foodstuffs, to the looming antibiotic crisis, human immunology has experienced almost unprecedented media attention over the last few years. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are among the complex biological compounds which stimulate our immune system. A stress-heavy lifestyle can push our systems too far, giving infectious disease agents a chance to get an otherwise unavailable foothold. Studies show that a lifestyle based on mindful awareness has multiple beneficial effects on the human immune system: it reduces hyperactive inflammatory responses, and promotes the immune defenses of individual cells, while reducing those factors which contribute to cell aging (causing helpful cells to self-destruct before their job is done).
The Mind-Gut Connection
Recent discoveries are taking “you are what you eat” to a different level entirely—or, perhaps, ancient people noticed a correlation which we’ve only just begun to scrutinize using modern methods. Either way, it is quickly becoming apparent that the way we eat has a profound effect on our health, and it’s more than just counting calories and eating for balanced nutrition. Our gut biomes may be responsible for generating most of our dopamine, the substance which allows our brain cells to communicate with each other. By stressing our digestive systems through unhealthy eating habits (such as the pace and frequency at which we consume food), we negatively affect our body’s ability to absorb nutrition, and directly reduce our ability to make rational and informed decisions. A mindful lifestyle makes smaller quantities of food, consumed more slowly, more of an enjoyable experience to be savored.
Improved Childhood Development
Mindfulness isn’t simply a curative measure for what ails you; it is a sound lifestyle, rooted in rational perspectives, and it has a wide range of supportive and preventative benefits for children. Studies show that a lifestyle based on basic concepts of mindfulness and meditation improves cognitive and social function, even (but not exclusively) in children who have physiological disorders which affect these areas of development. Said individuals develop better coping skills, and are more readily able to process information relating to subject matter that other children, with the same conditions, find frustrating and inscrutable. Given our expanding knowledge of developmental psychology—particularly recent revelations that we continue to go through phases of growth throughout our lives—it is logical to presume a continuing developmental benefit for adults as well.
Lower Incidence of Substance Use, Reduced Withdrawal Symptoms
Mindfulness allows for a greater sense of awareness of oneself, but also of a more unimpeded perspective on reality. Of course, it doesn’t change anything about the world; it only makes it easier to navigate. Imagine walking down a city street at night, wearing sunglasses designed for daytime use. A dark alley looks much the same as the road ahead, making everything seem hopeless. Mindfulness is comparable, in this analogy, to removing the sunglasses—representative of a false and limiting perspective. By reducing one’s tendency to view life as being hopeless and one’s own existence as being pointless, thanks to a less judgmental frame of mind, the lure of addiction becomes less powerful. An “escape” is no longer the necessity it once was.
More on Mindfulness:
- Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
- On Mindfulness-Based Interventions (PDF)
- Effects of Mindfulness-based Education on Children (PDF)