May is deemed “Mindful May” in order to bring awareness to mindfulness and the many mental and physical benefits that can be experienced by those who practice it. Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily do on "auto pilot". Mindfulness is a systematic approach to our own inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight. These capacities not only help us change our behavior and habits, but can significantly enhance our quality of life. Let’s take a look at what science tells us.
- Mindfulness can improve resilience among active duty soldiers. The results of a University of Miami study demonstrated that just 8 hours of mindfulness training over an 8 week pre-deployment period, was effective at preventing mind-wandering and attentional lapses. The brief mindfulness meditation exercise practices were aimed at staying focused on the present moment. Soldiers who practiced mindfulness before being deployed performed better on attention and cognitive performance tests while downrange. These measures were tested using the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), a test that measures attentional lapses and mind wandering. Overall, the data from this study suggests that mindfulness training performed pre-deployment can help active-duty soldiers prepare for combat and improve performance and cognitive resilience.
- Mindfulness Meditation can help you fall asleep and stay asleep faster. The results of a University of Southern California study suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve sleep quality for older adults with sleep disturbances, including trouble falling or staying asleep, or feeling sleepy during the day. The study compared two groups. One group did mindfulness awareness practices for 2 hours each week, for 6 weeks. The other group underwent a sleep hygiene education course for 2 hours each week, for 6 weeks. The results show that the mindfulness group showed significant improvements in their ability to fall and stay asleep relative to the group that underwent the sleep hygiene education course. The group that underwent the mindfulness intervention also experienced reductions in certain sleep-related daytime symptoms of sleep loss, including anxiety, stress, depression, and inflammatory markers often associated with sleep deprivation.
- Mindfulness meditation can help slow the signs of cognitive decline related to aging. According to a study from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, meditation may help preserve gray matter in the brain (the tissue where cognition occurs and memories are stored) in participants ranging from 24-77 years old. The study compared brain scans of two groups of people: one group who had mediated for an average of 20 years and the other group who did not meditate. The meditating group experience smaller reductions in gray matter than the non-meditating group. Although the correlation between preserved gray matter and meditation does not prove that meditating directly caused the gray matter preservation (other factors such as diet likely also play a role), meditation appears to be one factor that can help slow age related cognitive decline.
- Mindfulness training can help children improve math and social skills. The results of a study done in British Columbia showed that 4th and 5th grade students who practiced mindfulness had 15% better math skills. The study compared two groups of children. One group completed a 4 month mindfulness program. The other group received 4 months of a social responsibility program (the standard for Canadian public schools). Compared to the social responsibility group, the mindfulness program group also showed 24% more social behaviors, were 24% less aggressive, and perceived themselves as 20% more prosocial. The results of this study suggest that mindfulness training can help school age children with cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, optimism, empathy, mindfulness, and aggression.
- Mindful eating can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. There is ample research on the positive effects of eating mindfully and weight. Research has not only shown that mindful eating can help reduce mindless eating (eating without paying attention), it can also help reduce the occurrence of over eating due to oversized portions. Research has also indicated that mindfulness can help reduce obesity and aid weight loss, treat eating disorders, and type II diabetes, to name a few.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, check out the May edition of Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Arsenal, which is focused on mindfulness and offers more mindfulness resources.