Mindfulness is an age-old practice that has recently become a buzzword. From using mindfulness meditation to focus on the present moment to being more mindful at work, this practice is becoming more and more popular. Does practicing mindfulness really improve your physical and mental well-being? A number of recent mindfulness studies say it does! Whether you are an avid mindfulness practitioner or are skeptical about the benefits of being mindful, here are a few recent mindfulness studies to know about.

Mindfulness Changes Your Brain

Scientists have recently found that meditation and mindfulness can have an impact on the physical makeup of your brain. Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Chemnitz University of Technology recently conducted a large-scale aggregation of data on this subject. Though they say there is still much research to be done, they recently found several different areas of the brain that are affected when you practice mindfulness. The following two areas were among those that saw the biggest change:

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex

The anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for self-regulation and other aspects of behavior and decision making. When comparing mindfulness meditators to non-meditators, researchers found mindfulness meditators had better ability to self-regulate, act less impulsive, and resist distractions. They also found those who practice meditation had more activity in their anterior cingulate cortex than their peers who did not meditate.

The Hippocampus

The team from UBC also included and analyzed research conducted in 2011 to complete their study. They found those who practiced mindfulness meditation had more gray matter, tissue that helps with information processing, in their hippocampus than people who did not meditate.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that produces the stress hormone and controls emotional response. Where stress can damage this part of the brain, mindfulness essentially does the opposite. This study found those who practiced mindfulness had more gray matter in this part of their brain, increasing brain density in this region.

Positive Impact of Mindfulness on Corporate Culture

Practicing mindfulness in the workplace is becoming more and more prominent. A recent study from Case Western University highlights why companies may want to consider incorporating mindfulness into their company culture. This analysis considered over 4,000 scientific papers and aggregated this body of information to find conclusive results about how mindfulness practices affect the workplace. Some key findings from this study include:

  • Practicing mindfulness can improve brain function. This includes faster cognition, improved attention, and more.
  • Mindfulness can bolster productivity in the workplace through improving a person’s stability, control, and efficacy.

Information from this study suggests the following, although researchers indicate that further studies need to be done:

  • There is a correlation between people who practice mindfulness and those who have better interpersonal skills. In the workplace, these people relate well to others and work well on group projects and in team-based settings.   
  • Those who practice mindfulness can have increased levels of empathy and compassion. This suggests that mindfulness training may be beneficial in the workplace in terms of building effective leaders and fostering teamwork.

Mindfulness Meditation To Relieve Back Pain

This mindfulness study conducted by the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) takes a deep dive into how mindfulness can be used to relieve lower back pain. To conduct this study, researchers worked with 342 participants between ages 20 and 70. These participants were treated with one of three types of therapy: Some participants used Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), some used cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and the third group received standard treatment for their back pain.

At the end of the 52-week study, patients who received MBSR to combat their back pain saw a reduction of pain throughout the entirety of the study, while patients treated with CBT only saw improvement through 26 weeks of the study. This information leads researchers to believe that this type of therapy is an effective treatment for back pain!

Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation

The benefits of mindfulness are not limited to physical and mental health. A recent study by the American Mindfulness Research Association found people practicing mindfulness had less emotional reactivity or “knee-jerk reactions” in social situations. To conduct this study, researchers showed study participants a number of emotionally-charged images and tracked brain activity using an electroencephalogram to monitor brain activity.  

Researchers found that participants who practiced mindfulness had less impulsive and triggering reactions when viewing these images compared to those who did not practice mindfulness. One theory for why this occurrence happens is that practicing mindfulness helps extinguish negative emotion and instead take in the things around them in an open, non-judgemental way.

Mindfulness Studies in Education

While many initial mindfulness studies explored benefits of mindfulness for adults, the last decade has seen a lot of research on how it can benefit children. A recent study from the Journal of Early Education and Development outlines the potential benefits of incorporating mindfulness into the curriculum in early education. This study looked at a group of preschoolers and kindergarteners over a two-year period. Researchers compared the children’s behavior and academic performance between the group that practiced mindfulness and the group that did not.

Scientists found students who practiced mindfulness were more organized and had better working memories than the students who did not. They also found the children in the mindfulness group scored higher on reading and vocabulary assessments at the end of kindergarten than the group that did not. Though this one only one study in one school, there is a growing amount of research as it pertains to mindfulness in educational settings. Some key studies and findings include:

As many recent mindfulness studies show, this practice is an effective tool for reducing stress, increasing emotional skill, relieving physical pain and more! If you would like to start practicing mindfulness, check out this 5-minute mindfulness meditation or some simple mindfulness exercises for anxiety.

Megan Herndon

Megan is a Seattle-based writer who covers health and wellness. She has worked in content marketing and journalism for a number of organizations including The Seattle Globalist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and The Jakarta Globe. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Washington and is currently working on her second UW degree, a Master of Communication and Digital Media. Born and raised in Hawaii and currently embracing the Pacific Northwest lifestyle, Megan loves all things active and outdoors including hiking, camping, outrigger canoe paddling, and yoga.

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