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07 August 2012
You really don’t need any reminding of the powers of meditation; they are real, physical, emotional, spiritual, and incredibly well studied. Now a new study has added to the pantheon of meditation research and has shown a triple effect. The research has shown that mindfulness training reduces inflammation by altering gene expression and reduces the experience of loneliness at the same time.
As people get older loneliness can become an issue. The loss of partners and friends, either to mortality or just life separation, leads to an inevitably smaller circle of people around you. This can lead to the experience of loneliness. At the same time inflammation becomes an increasing health issue. High levels of inflammation in your body are linked to many diseases like heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer. There is even the thought that inflammation accelerates the ageing process. So if mindfulness can reduce inflammation and loneliness at the same time then it will be very useful for many people.
The new study involved healthy adults aged 55-85 who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using a loneliness scale and blood samples were also collected.
For eight weeks the participants were randomly assigned to receive either no treatment or a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSRP). The program involved one two hour meeting each week where they learned body awareness techniques like noticing sensations and working on their breathing. During the study they worked their way toward understanding how to mindfully attend to their emotions and habits in daily life. They were also asked to practice mindfulness meditation at home for 30 minutes each day and to attend one day long retreat.
After the eight weeks the people practising mindfulness had reduced experience of loneliness and their blood samples showed that levels of inflammatory gene expression in their immune cells was reduced. This translated into lowered levels of c-reactive protein in the blood indicating that overall inflammation in the body was reduced.
As the population ages and inflammation and loneliness become more prevalent, mindfulness meditation might be a cost effective solution for the future in more ways than one.