Medical Support for Daily Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about more than just conquering stress–it has tangible medical benefits that can support healthy living.

By: Blake Calamas

Practicing mindfulness (or mindfulness meditation) has grown in recent years as a helpful tool in therapy, self-help, and holistic living. While it’s difficult to pin down a single “genealogy” of mindfulness’ historical roots, it was and continues to be common to most major world religious texts including those in the Buddhist, Hinduist, Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions.1

Not sure what we mean by mindfulness? Check out our practice primer here.

But the support of mindfulness within religion only paints one side of the practice and its benefits. In addition, the medical community has rallied around mindfulness as a tested, health-improving tool that could (or even should) be in everyone’s wellness toolkit.

Brain-changing power of mindfulness

Mindfulness practices have been used in therapy for anxiety and depression for years, but further research has shown how powerful these practices can be when used consistently. A 2013 medical study followed 155 adults who underwent an eight-week course of mindfulness training, followed by an MRI scan to learn if (and how) the brain’s structure had changed.

Here are the results: 

Recent work suggests that mindfulness (and mindfulness training interventions) may foster neuroplastic changes in cortico-limbic circuits responsible for stress and emotion regulation…Such volumetric differences may help explain why mindful individuals have reduced stress reactivity, and suggest new candidate structural neurobiological pathways linking mindfulness with mental and physical health outcomes.2

What does this mean? After the eight-week mindfulness course, the brain’s amygdala–the portion associated with fear and emotion and primarily responsible for our “fight-or-flight” response–appeared to shrink. And as the amygdala shrunk, the part of the brain that handles awareness, concentration, and decision-making (the prefrontal cortex) grew.

Even the connections between these regions changed as a result of consistent mindfulness: the amygdala’s connections with the rest of the brain grew weaker while areas associated with attention and concentration grew stronger.

So in sum, a daily mindfulness habit has the power to literally change the structure of your brain (often called neuroplasticity), powering down the parts associated with fear, stress, and emotional reactivity and powering up the parts associated with focus, concentration, and decision-making.

Building a mindful life raft for use in times of crisis

While mindfulness has been in practice for centuries, its spotlight often grows during times of crisis. Take, for example, the global pandemic that has impacted millions of lives and severely impacted mental health, through the deaths of loved ones, social isolation, and the disappearance of “normal” life in communities across the world. In fact, a study on the psychological impact of Covid-19 among Italians during the first week of lockdown found that 40% reported high psychological distress and about 30% showed clinically significant post-traumatic symptoms.3

A study that examined the relationship between mindfulness and psychiatric symptoms related to Covid-19 had this to say about the role the former plays in impacting the latter:

To date, this mindfulness ability seems to be related to other psychological constructs such as emotional intelligence, vivid perception, receptive attention, personality traits, and defense mechanisms.4

Mindfulness has also been proven to represent a good predictor of depression, anxiety, stress, and well-being in association with self-compassion, self-efficacy, and gender.5

Several systematic reviews and meta-analyses showed significant beneficial effects on depressive and anxiety symptoms in patients treated with mindfulness-based interventions.6

In other words, a mindfulness-centered lifestyle shows significant health benefits when it comes to dealing with crisis, whether it’s the death of a loved one, financial or job insecurities, political fraying, or a global health pandemic. By “practicing” mindfulness in the same way you might strive to consistently exercise and eat healthy, you’re strengthening your brain to handle the lows of life when they arrive.

When being of solid mind supports other healthy habits

A 2011 mindfulness study featuring college women who were asked to self-report their wellness over five academic semesters while practicing mindfulness, yielded promising results that showed one healthy habit can support others. Over the ~2 year study, the participants noted that their mindfulness practice correlated to healthier eating practices, better sleep, and better physical health.7

Even at first glance, the results seem obvious: learning to control our brain’s response to stress, emotional triggers, and even trauma can have profound impacts on other aspects of our wellness, including diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene. In turn, these healthy habits can improve our mental health, as well, thereby creating a beneficial mindfulness-wellness cycle that supports itself.

It can even support your work life, as well. A 2013 study found that participants who were assigned to a self-training mindfulness group experienced significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction than the participants in the control group (those who were not assigned to self-training mindfulness).8

Expand your healthy toolkit

The role that mental health plays in physical health, and vice versa, is becoming vastly more understood with each passing year. How our brains feel (stressed, tired, anxious, angry, afraid) has both direct and indirect correlations to our physical health.

In the same way that adequate exercise, fruits and vegetables, and proper sleep can support a healthy life, consider including consistent mindfulness. Here @2:50 we believe mindfulness to be an essential bio break. The measurable changes it has on your brain and on your ability to deal with crises can be powerful. It might be just the “tool” your healthy toolkit has been missing.

It can even support your work life, as well. A 2013 study found that participants who were assigned to a self-training mindfulness group experienced significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction than the participants in the control group (those who were not assigned to self-training mindfulness).9

And even if you don’t start out practicing it every day, @250 welcomes you to our 10-minute mindfulness sessions at 2:50 PM, whenever you can make them. Try it out, see what works for you.

1. Trousselard M, Steiler D, Claverie D, Canini F. L’histoire de la Mindfulness à l’épreuve des données actuelles de la littérature: questions en suspens [The history of Mindfulness put to the test of current scientific data: unresolved questions]. Encephale. 2014 Dec;40(6):474-80. French. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2014.08.006. Epub 2014 Sep 5. PMID: 25194754.
2. Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ (2013) Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLOS ONE 8(5): e64574.
3. Marazziti, D., Tomaiuolo, F., Dell’Osso, L., Demi, V., Campana, S., Piccaluga, E., et al. (2015). Neuropsychological testing in interventional cardiology staff after long-term exposure to ionizing radiation. J. Int. Neuropsychol. Soc. 21, 670–676. doi: 10.1017/S135561771500082X
4. Salovey, P., Mayer, J. D., Goldman, S. L., Turvey, C., and Palfai, T. F. (1995). “Emotional attention, clarity, and repair: exploring emotional intelligence using the trait meta-mood scale,” in Emotion, Disclosure, and Health, ed. J. W. Pennebaker (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association), 125–154. doi: 10.1037/10182-006
5. Soysa, C. K., and Wilcomb, C. J. (2015). Mindfulness, self-compassion, self-efficacy, and gender as predictors of depression, anxiety, stress, and well-being. Mindfulness 6, 217–226. doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0247-1
6. Strauss, C., Cavanagh, K., Oliver, A., and Pettman, D. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions for people diagnosed with a current episode of an anxiety or depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. PLoS One 9:e96110. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096110
7. Murphy, Megan J., et al. “The benefits of dispositional mindfulness in physical health: A longitudinal study of female college students.” Journal of American College Health 60.5 (2012): 341-348.
8. Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. J. E. M., Feinholdt, A., & Lang, J. W. B. (2013). Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 310–325.
9. Creswell, J David et al. “Mindfulness Training and Physical Health: Mechanisms and Outcomes.” Psychosomatic medicine vol. 81,3 (2019): 224-232. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000675