In our modern lives, it's not hard to find something that causes stress. No wonder so many seniors remind themselves to take a deep breath and relax – it actually might be the best advice for enhancing senior wellness. Hundreds of studies have shown that deep relaxation through yoga or meditation can help to revitalize the body and mind, lower stress, decrease blood pressure and bolster our immune systems.
Better yet, the more one practices meditation, the greater the health benefits. Check out the six upsides of practicing relaxation techniques regularly:
1. Increased immunity
According to research from Ohio State University, a month of relaxation exercises raised the number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cells crucial in the immune system, among seniors, giving them greater resistance to tumors, infections and viruses. In a separate study from OSU, relaxation was shown to strengthen the immune system in recovering cancer patients. The scientists discovered that progressive muscular relaxation, when practiced daily, lowers the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
2. Reduces stress
Perhaps the best-known benefit of meditation is as stress reliever. As a mind-body practice, meditation helps restore a sense of calm and balance that rebuilds well-being and overall health. Even a few minutes per day can help ease anxiety.
"Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain's neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress," psychologist Dr. Robbie Maller Hartman, a Chicago health and wellness coach, told WebMD.
One of the aspects is that deep breathing battles the effects of anxiety by slowing heart rate and lowering blood pressure. Activate your five senses – it will help you focus in the long run. Notice how the air feels on your face, smell the aromas of the room, listen to the fan blowing in the corner. While you ignite your senses, you can feel the tension leave your body. As you age, it becomes increasingly important to pay attention to your body's signals, and meditation provides a perfect listening session.
The perks don't stop once the meditation class ends either. Besides lowering stress, this technique builds skills to manage stress in other aspects of your life, such as work or family, increases self-awareness and fights negative emotions.
3. Lowers blood pressure
We all know that stress and blood pressure are linked, but how? When you're in a stressful situation, your body produces a surge of hormones. These hormones, by speeding up your heart rate and narrowing blood vessels, temporarily increase your blood pressure. Meditation, therefore, plays a role in countering this process since it reduces anxiety.
Recent studies have offered promising results about the influence of meditation in lowering blood pressure. A 2012 study showed that African-Americans with heart disease who practiced transcendental meditation consistently were nearly 50 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke or die when compared to African-Americans who attended a health education over more than five years.
4. Relieves irritable bowel syndrome
Patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been able to reduce symptoms of bloating, constipation and diarrhea through relaxation meditation, according to a study from the University of North Carolina. The research involved 75 women diagnosed with IBS between the ages of 19 and 71. They were split into two groups: The first received mindful mediation while the control group went to mutual support sessions. At the end of the eight-week period, the symptoms of participants in the meditation group were reduced by more than 26 percent whereas those in the support group lowered by only 6 percent.
"Our study indicates that mindfulness meditation is a practical, widely applicable and inexpensive method to enable irritable bowel syndrome patients to improve their clinical outcomes and gain associated improvement in well-being," Olafur Palsson, a licensed clinical psychologist and one of the researchers, told WebMD.
Stress can lead to inflammation, which has been linked to a range of health conditions including heart disease, asthma and arthritis. Carnegie Mellon University's Sheldon Cohen points out that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate inflammatory response. To combat this, relaxation can help prevent such symptoms by switching of the stress response.
6. Improves memory
Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara discovered that meditation minimizes distraction time and boosts memory. Using the breath as an anchor for attention during relaxation periods trains the brain's muscles to fight off tangential thoughts ands stay on track, thereby heightening focus and memory. The researchers also noted that physical posture plays a big role in concentration, with more erect sitting styles capable of producing increasingly on-track thoughts.
To gain the full benefits of meditation, practice! Like learning any new skill, repeating yoga or deep breathing exercises routinely only boosts their effectiveness. Practice not only makes perfect, it can also make you healthier!