Loneliness won't leave you alone How mindful meditation can ease your woes
The practice also boosted immunity in older adults
10:52 GMT, 25 July 2012
Solitude: Mindfulness helps improve your state of mind say scientists
Older adults who suffer from loneliness are at far greater risk of health problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer's and premature death.
Schemes to encourage social networking such as creating community centres have had limited effectiveness.
Now scientists have come up with a new way for people to tackle the social ill – on their own.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that teaching mindful meditation techniques was effective at reducing feelings of isolation, while at the same time boosting their ability to fight disease.
Study leader J. David Creswell, said: 'We always tell people to quit smoking
for health reasons, but rarely do we think about loneliness in the same
'We know that
loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems and mortality in
older adults. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation
training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older
The 2,500-year-old practice dating back to the time of the spiritual leader Buddha focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment.
Published in 'Brain, Behavior & Immunity,' the study also found that meditation lowered inflammation levels, which is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases.
For the study, the researchers recruited 40 healthy adults aged 55-85 who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation techniques. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples also were collected.
The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or no treatment.
Tranquility: Two-hour meditation classes also reduced inflammation
The MBSR program consisted of weekly two-hour meetings in which participants learned body awareness techniques – noticing sensations and working on breathing – and worked their way toward understanding how to mindfully attend to their emotions and daily life practices.
They also were asked to practice mindfulness meditation exercises for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a day-long retreat.
The researchers found that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants' loneliness.
Meanwhile the blood samples revealed that the training reduced the participants elevated levels of an inflammatory-causing gene.
Study co-author Steven Cole from UCLA said: 'Reductions in the expression of inflammation-related genes were particularly significant because inflammation contributes to a wide variety of the health threats including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.
'These results provide some of the first indications that immune cell gene expression profiles can be modulated by a psychological intervention.'
Creswell added that while this research suggests a promising new approach for treating loneliness and inflammatory disease risk in older adults, more work needs to be done.
'If you're interested in using mindfulness meditation, find an instructor in your city,' he said.
'It's important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.'
A MINDFUL EXERCISE – 3 MINUTE BREATHING SPACE
Bringing yourself into the present moment, adopting an alert yet comfortable posture, close your eyes, if this is comfortable, and bring your attention inward. Becoming aware of your body and the surface upon which you are sitting, draw your focus to the spine, each vertebra stacked upon the other from sacrum to skull.
Now, turning your attention to your thoughts and feelings, ask, 'What thoughts and feelings are around right now What bodily sensations are present'. Acknowledge your experience in this moment, even if it is unwanted.
Now, gently direct your awareness to your breathing, following each in breath and each out breath, one after the other, if necessary, saying to yourself, 'I am breathing in. I am breathing out.'
The breath can function as an anchor to bring you into the present moment since the breath is always with us and available at any time as a focus of attention. Regulating the inbreath with the outbreath can assist in maintaining awareness and stillness.
Now, expanding your awareness to the whole body, imagine that you are breathing with the body as a whole including your posture and facial expression. When you're ready, open your eyes and return to your day.
Source: Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust