Meditation has long been lauded as a great way to improve your physical and mental health and well-being. Many scientific studies have shown that meditation can reduce pain and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression (1). This can be especially beneficial for seniors, who are more prone to these types of health conditions. Check out these top 10 benefits of meditation for seniors, and see how you can get healthier and happier today!
1. Meditation Reduces Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
For many reasons, including more time spent alone, physical limitations, and medical conditions, depression and anxiety are especially prevalent in older adults. Reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms is a great benefit of meditation for seniors. Mindfulness meditation is a great treatment for depression and anxiety. While first-line treatments are typically medication and therapy, meditation can help you improve more quickly and more significantly than other treatments alone (2). Meditation helps with depression and anxiety in a few different ways. “Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious,” says Dr. John W. Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. (3). It can also physically change parts of the brain associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms, like the prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive functioning and decision-making), amygdala (your “fear center”), and hippocampus (involved in memory). These brain changes help your body to respond to stressors or sadness without becoming depressed or anxious.
2. Meditation Improves Relationships
As a senior, your relationships with your loved ones are extremely important. Feeling lonely, isolated, or alone is as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (4)! Did you know that mindfulness meditation could actually improve your relationships (5)? For one, it reduces emotional reactivity. This means that you are less likely to “blow up” or lose your temper, or otherwise respond in the heat of the moment in a way that you will regret later. Meditation has also been shown to increase your relationship satisfaction, so you just feel happier with the people you love in general.
3. Meditation Reduces Stress for Seniors
You’ve probably heard a lot about the negative impacts of stress on your mind and body. Stress has been shown to raise your levels of the hormone cortisol. Long-term exposure to cortisol can cause impaired immune function, weight gain, worse sleep, and even increase your risks of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke (6). Mediation has been shown to significantly decrease your cortisol levels and help you feel less stress in your life (7). So, by meditating and reducing the amount of stress you feel, you will also prevent some medical conditions that can be especially dangerous for seniors.
4. Improves Sleep Quality
Few things are as annoying as poor sleep, night after night. Insomnia affects up to 48% of older adults (8). Fortunately, meditation can help improve your quality of sleep in just a few weeks (9). One study found that meditation was significantly more effective at reducing insomnia than the standard sleep hygiene education (like not consuming caffeine close to bedtime, going to bed at the same time each night, maintaining a dark and quiet environment, etc). Want to improve your sleep even more? Check out this post.
5. Meditation Boosts Energy Levels
Daytime fatigue is a problem that many seniors struggle with. As you’ve probably noticed, life is simply less enjoyable when you are always tired. Sometimes, the reason for this fatigue is more psychological than physical. Stress, worry, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are incredibly exhausting. Since mindfulness meditation can treat and improve these conditions, having more energy is a likely bonus. Meditation can also reduce your feelings of fatigue and boost your energy levels even if you aren’t suffering from any diagnosed mental or physical illnesses (10). If you have higher energy levels, you’re also likely to have a better quality of life.
6. Meditation Reduces Pain in Seniors
Did you know that all pain occurs in the brain? It’s true–while you have pain receptors throughout your body, their purpose is simply to relay information back to your mind. So, the only place you actually experience pain is in your brain. For this reason, mental exercises like meditation can actually reduce the amount of pain you experience. (11) For seniors with chronic health conditions that can cause persistent pain and discomfort, reducing pain is extremely helpful for a happier life.
7. Meditation Improves Focus and Concentration
Many seniors report reduced focus and concentration in their later years. Aging often causes the brain to process things more slowly, and working memory becomes worse. This can impact things like focus and concentration. However, meditation can help here, too. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness and meditation can improve your systems of attention (12). This will have positive effects on your ability to focus and concentrate.
8. Meditation May Slow Cognitive Decline
Nobody wants to fall victim to the cognitive decline that can happen with aging. One study provided a group of older adults with mindfulness training. These seniors were reportedly experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline. After only 2 weeks of meditation, the seniors showed significantly reduced cognitive complaints and increased attention and memory! (13) So, meditating is likely to have a positive effect on your cognitive abilities as you age.
9. Meditation May Help Prevent Dementia for Seniors
You might be surprised to hear that nearly 60% of seniors experiencing subjective cognitive decline will go on to experience Alzheimer’s dementia. With these frightening statistics, anything you can do to help prevent dementia is worth trying. While more research is needed on the connection between dementia and meditation, it is clear and well-established that meditation has positive effects on brain health (14). It even affects the physical structure of your brain in a positive way. Improving the health of your brain may help slow or prevent symptoms of dementia.
10. Meditation Can Improve Overall Well-Being
With all of these benefits of meditation, it seems clear that meditation is likely to improve your overall well-being and quality of life. Who doesn’t want better energy, better sleep, less pain, improved memory and focus, lower stress, and better relationships? With all of these benefits, mindfulness meditation is a practice that will improve your life in almost every area.
Meditation is a safe and effective way to improve your health and well-being at any age, but it can be especially beneficial for seniors. If you want to try meditation, there are many ways to begin. You can find guided meditations online, using meditation apps, or work with a trained therapist or meditation coach. Stay tuned for our future post on 12 simple mindfulness activities for seniors that will help get you started!