What you need to know about meditation and its health benefits as you age – Daily News

Q. What are the benefits of meditation in old age? My son keeps telling me that it will help me concentrate. Where can I read about it? SN

For a quick read, let’s start with this column. Meditation, one of the fastest growing health trends in America, is a set of techniques intended to encourage an increased sense of awareness and focused attention at any age. Lack of focus is a problem for many as proven harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert. They find 47 percent of the time our minds wander, often living in the past or worrying about the future.

The researchers came to this conclusion in their study of 2,250 subjects, checking with them at random times what they were doing at the time and what they were focusing on. A quarter of a million data points later, they found that participants were “wandering the mind” and not being fully engaged with what was in front of them. They also discovered that a wandering spirit was not a happy spirit; not being in the moment was the cause and not the consequence of their misfortune.

Meditation has many benefits; it can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, increase our concentration, improve our attention and memory, and allow us to sleep better. The Mayo Clinic reports that meditation also reduces pain, high blood pressure, decreases burnout and improves diabetes control.

Meditation as a stress reducer is important for health and longevity. We know that chronic stress activates an inflammatory response in our body that can affect the length of what are called telomeres. These are caps on the end of each chromosome that keep them from unraveling, thus protecting vital information in our DNA. They look like plastic tips on the end of a lace that keep it from unraveling. During cell division, the chromosome replicates, which shortens the telomeres. When they become too short, the cell can no longer divide and copy, causing our cells to age and stop functioning, affecting health and lifespan. There are things we can do to prevent the increased acceleration of shortened telomeres. To manage stress is one, while leading a healthy lifestyle.

There are many forms of mediation. Let’s focus on two. The first is meditative movement which includes tai chi and yoga which connects body and mind with controlled breathing and bodily movements which help both mind and body to relax. Another is mindfulness, a type of meditation that focuses on being aware of what you are feeling and feeling right now, without interpretation or judgment. This is fully present and again involves breathing methods, guided pictures and other practices to relax body and mind and help reduce stress. Note that reducing stress also helps focus.

Here are some basic steps for practicing mindfulness.

  • Find a quiet spot and sit cross-legged (if you can), on a low cushion on the floor, or on a chair.
  • Close your eyes for about five minutes and breathe deeply. Breathe in and out through your nose.
  • Become aware of the sound of your breath and clear your mind.
  • If your mind is wandering, bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Be aware of what you are feeling and feeling right now.
  • Open your eyes and be aware of how you are feeling.
  • Engage in the practice for only five or ten minutes a day.

So the answer to your question is ‘yes’, meditation can help a person of any age to concentrate by clearing their mind with the added benefit of reducing stress and slowing down the aging process.

Here are just two highly recommended books on the subject: “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and “Wherever you go, you are there” through Jon Kabat-Zinn. In addition, there are many online meditation courses as well as courses offered by hospitals and senior centers.

Thanks SN for your good question. We could all benefit from a little meditation. Be well and be kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on aging, employment and new retirement issues with academic, corporate and non-profit background. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected] Visit Helen on HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity

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