“A new study led by Carnegie Mellon University’s J. David Creswell offers the first evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults. Published in “Brain, Behavior & Immunity,” the researchers also found that mindfulness meditation — a 2,500-year-old practice dating back to Buddha that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment — lowered inflammation levels, which is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases. These findings provide valuable insights into how mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease in older adults.”

Loneliness, a feeling of being socially disconnected, has been described as comparable to smoking as a risk factor for predicting health problems and death in older adults. It is important to note that it is a feeling of being socially disconnected, and may not actually reflect one’s degree of social isolation.

Steven Cole, professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine says that studies have been done where researchers tried to alleviate people’s loneliness through social interventions, such as getting them involved at their local community centre, but these interventions did not prove to be very effective in reducing the subjects’ sense of loneliness.

Mindfulness training has been shown to help people to deal with difficult feelings, so in this new study a group of older people participated in the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, and the results were impressive:

“The researchers found that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants’ loneliness. Using the blood samples collected, they found that the older adult sample had elevated pro-inflammatory gene expression in their immune cells at the beginning of the study, and that the training reduced this pro-inflammatory gene expression, as well as a measure of C-Reactive Protein (CRP). These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may reduce older adults’ inflammatory disease risk.

“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,” said study collaborator Steven Cole, professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine.”

You can learn more about this study here: http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2012/july/july24_meditationstudy.html

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