Tag: mental health

The Potential Medical Benefits of Meditation

Meditation has long been part of Eastern practices and recommended by alternative health practitioners. With the widespread adoption of yoga, breathing exercises and general mindfulness, meditation has become much more mainstream and something many traditional physicians now recommend to their patients.

According to the yoga equipment supply company Gaiam, meditation is an approach to training the mind that is similar to the way athletes train their bodies. Many meditation techniques exist, and the term meditation refers to an overall discipline rather than one specific activity. People who have been meditating for some time may be able to rest their brains for extended periods of time. Some may need to work up to it. Others practice focus-specific meditation, which makes them focus on a sensation or a particular object to tune out other distractions. Another option is open-monitoring meditation, which involves paying attention to all of one’s surroundings. Instead of reacting, you just notice things as they are.

The brand-building company Buffer says that meditation produces measurable changes in the brain. Modern technology like MRI scans show a decrease in beta waves during meditation. Those waves normally indicate that the brain is processing information. Meditation helps to slow or stop that processing. Meditation has been long studied as a way to induce relaxation and help alleviate stress. In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response.” In Benson’s words, this is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” Meditation helps achieve that.

Meditation may produce many different health results. Some are immediate, and others are cumulative. Here are some changes a person may see:

• better focus while not meditating

• reduced anxiety

• lower blood pressure

• lower blood cortisol levels

• greater feelings of well-being

• reduced feelings of stress

• ability to cope better with challenging situations

• potential benefits on immune system function

Meditation is a skill someone learns with practice. It’s never too early or too late to learn how to meditate. Online courses and neighborhood studios can help people get on the road to wellness through meditation.

Preventive Care Involves Safeguarding Mental Health

Preventive care is often looked at through the needs people need to do to protect their physical well-being. For example, a healthy diet and routine exercise, while beneficial to mental health, are often viewed as lifestyle choices that can make people feel better physically. But taking steps to protect one’s mental health also is vital to a long, productive life.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that positive mental health and mental wellness can have a profoundly positive impact on a person’s life. Positive mental health can help people realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

What can I do to protect my mental health?

Learning to recognize the early warning signs of mental health problems can help prevent such problems from escalating and compel people to seek help. The DHHS advises anyone feeling these signs or recognizing these signs in others to seek help for themselves or their loved ones:

• Eating or sleeping too much or too little

• Pulling away from people and usual activities

• Having low or no energy

• Feeling numb or as if nothing matters

• Unexplained aches and pains

• Feeling helpless or hopeless

• Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual

• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared

• Yelling or fighting with family and friends

• Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

• Persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head

• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true

• Thinking of harming yourself or others

• An inability to perform daily tasks, such as taking care of your children or getting to work or school

Taking steps to protect one’s mental wellness is a vital component of preventive care. More information about mental health is available at www.mentalhealth.gov.

How Aging Adults Can Maintain Their Mental Acuity

Aging is associated with or linked to a host of mental and physical side effects. For example, many adults expect their vision to deteriorate as they grow older. Such a side effect can be combatted with routine eye examinations that may indicate a need for a stronger eyeglass prescription, a relatively simple solution that won’t impact adults’ daily lives much at all. While physical side effects like diminished vision might not strike much fear in the hearts of aging men and women, those same people may be concerned and/or frightened by the notion of age-related cognitive decline. Some immediately associate such decline with Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys memory and cognitive skills, ultimately compromising a person’s ability to perform even the simplest of tasks. But age-related cognitive decline is not always symptomatic of Alzheimer’s disease. Learning about Alzheimer’s and how to maintain mental acuity can help aging men and women better understand the changes their brains might be undergoing as they near or pass retirement age.

Is Alzheimer’s disease hereditary?

The National Institute on Aging notes that only a very rare form of Alzheimer’s disease is inherited. Early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, or FAD, is caused by mutations in certain genes. If these genes are passed down from parent to child, then the child is likely, but not certain, to get FAD. So while many adults may be concerned about Alzheimer’s because one of their parents had the disease, the NIA notes that the majority of Alzheimer’s cases are late-onset, which has no obvious family pattern.

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?

Studies of Alzheimer’s disease are ongoing, but to date there is no definitive way to prevent the onset of the disease.

How can I maintain mental acuity as I age?

Researchers have not yet determined a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but adults can take certain steps to maintain their mental acuity into retirement.

• Exercise regularly. Routine exercise may be most associated with physical benefits, but the NIA notes that such activity has been linked to benefits for the brain as well. For example, a 2011 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that aerobic exercise training increases the size of the hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory. The NIA also notes that one study indicated exercise stimulated the brain’s ability to maintain old network connections and make new ones vital to cognitive health.

• Read more. Avid readers may be happy to learn that one of their favorite pastimes can improve the efficiency of their cognitive systems while delaying such systems’ decline. A 2013 study published in the journal Neurology by researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center found that mentally active lifestyles may not prevent the formations of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but such lifestyles decreases the likelihood that the presence of plaques or tangles will impair cognitive function.

• Stay socially connected. Maintaining social connections with family, friends and community members also can help women prevent cognitive decline. Epidemiologist Bryan James of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center studied how social activity affected cognitive decline, ultimately noting that the rate of cognitive decline was considerably lower among men and women who maintained social contact than it was among those with low levels of social activity.

The idea of age-related cognitive decline strikes fear in the hearts of many men and women, but there are ways for adults to maintain their mental acuity well into their golden years.