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Mindfulness Matters: Can Living in the Moment Improve Your Health?


some point in your life, someone probably told you, “Enjoy every
moment. Life is short.” Maybe you’ve smiled and rolled your eyes at this
well-intentioned relative or co-worker. But the fact is, there’s
something to it. Trying to enjoy each moment may actually be good for
your health.

The idea is called mindfulness. This ancient practice is about being
completely aware of what’s happening in the present—of all that’s going
on inside and all that’s happening around you. It means not living your
life on “autopilot.” Instead, you experience life as it unfolds moment
to moment, good and bad, and without judgment or preconceived notions.

“Many of us go through our lives without really being present in the
moment,” says Dr. Margaret Chesney of the University of California, San
Francisco. She’s studying how mindfulness affects health. “What is
valuable about mindfulness is that it is accessible and can be helpful
to so many people.”

Studies suggest that mindfulness practices may help people manage
stress, cope better with serious illness and reduce anxiety and
depression. Many people who practice mindfulness report an increased
ability to relax, a greater enthusiasm for life and improved

One NIH-supported study found a link between mindfulness meditation and
measurable changes in the brain regions involved in memory, learning and
emotion. Another NIH-funded researcher reported that mindfulness
practices may reduce anxiety and hostility among urban youth and lead to
reduced stress, fewer fights and better relationships.

A major benefit of mindfulness is that it encourages you to pay
attention to your thoughts, your actions and your body. For example,
studies have shown that mindfulness can help people achieve and maintain
a healthy weight. “It is so common for people to watch TV and eat snack
food out of the box without really attending to how much they are
eating,” says Chesney. “With mindful eating, you eat when you’re hungry,
focus on each bite, enjoy your food more and stop when you’re full.”

Finding time for mindfulness in our culture, however, can be a
challenge. We tend to place great value on how much we can do at once
and how fast. Still, being more mindful is within anyone’s reach.

You can practice mindfulness throughout the day, even while answering
e-mails, sitting in traffic or waiting in line. All you have to do is
become more aware—of your breath, of your feet on the ground, of your
fingers typing, of the people and voices around you.

Chesney notes that as people start to learn how to be more mindful, it’s
common and normal to realize how much your mind races and focuses on
the past and future. You can just notice those thoughts and then return
to the present moment. It is these little, regular steps that add up and
start to create a more mindful, healthy life.

So, before you roll your eyes again, take a moment and consider mindfulness.

For more information, please visit www.NIH.gov.

Photo credit Stockbyte/Thinkstock