Discover the benefits of meditation in later life, no pretzel poses required

Apr 01, 2024
Meditation is not just a trend for the younger generation; it's a timeless practice that holds incredible benefits for individuals in their golden years. Source: Getty Images.

You’ve no doubt heard about meditation, right? The zen-like practice where people sit cross-legged, humming and chanting “om” until they’re as blissed out as a cat in the sun?

Well, guess what? Meditation isn’t just for granola-crunching, yoga-pant-wearing Millennials; it’s for all of us, especially seniors. And here’s the good news: you don’t need to become a human tuning fork or memorise Sanskrit verses to enjoy the perks.

For many older adults, meditation may just be the secret to ageing gracefully.

Women’s health coach and nutritionist for Happy Healthy You, Tahlia Thomas explains that “meditation helps to quieten the mind and aid in nervous system regulation, which down-regulates our cortisol levels and in turn improves our overall quality of life, digestive function and mental wellbeing.”

So, grab your comfy chair, leave the humming to the bees, and join Starts at 60 as we explore how meditation can sprinkle a little serenity and a whole lot of wisdom into your golden years.

What is meditation?

Think of meditation as a mental spa day for your brain. It’s when you take some quality time to sit, relax, and let go of all of the hustle and bustle that can come with life.

Meditation involves training your mind to focus, relax, and achieve a heightened state of awareness. It’s often done by sitting or lying down in a quiet place and concentrating your attention on a specific object, thought, or activity, such as your breath, a mantra (a word or phrase repeated silently), or the sensations in your body.

The primary goal of meditation is to quiet the mind and promote a sense of inner peace and clarity. While practicing meditation, you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without becoming attached to them. This awareness allows you to let go of stress, anxiety, and distractions, and instead, cultivate a calm and centered state of being.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation can offer a multitude of benefits for those in their later years. It’s like a wellspring of well-being that provides mental clarity, reduces stress, and fosters emotional resilience. Meditation can also enhance memory and cognitive function, promoting mental sharpness as we age. Moreover, it can improve sleep quality and overall physical health, contributing to a more fulfilling and enjoyable life in our golden years.

TriCare’s Williams Landing Aged Care Residence Clinical Manager, Karen Boyose explains that practicing meditation regularly “can help increase awareness, self-reflection, and can even help improve self-care habits and relationships with others.”

Some of the other benefits that can come with meditation include:

Stress reduction: Meditation techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, can help you manage stress more effectively.

In 2013, after combing through over 200 studies involving mindfulness among individuals without health issues, researchers made an intriguing discovery. They found that mindfulness-based therapy demonstrated remarkable efficacy in alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression

Stress reduction is particularly important in later life, as chronic stress can exacerbate age-related health issues. Meditation allows you to relax, alleviate anxiety, and achieve a sense of calm, promoting emotional and mental well-being.

Improved cognitive function: Regular meditation can enhance cognitive function. It can help sharpen focus, attention, and memory, which can be particularly beneficial for combating age-related cognitive decline, including conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Meditation exercises the brain, keeping it agile and engaged.

A recent study published in Behavioural Brain Research revealed that just 8 weeks of daily meditation can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and boost attention and memory in those who haven’t meditated before

Better sleep: Sleep disturbances can become common later in life, but meditation can aid in improving sleep quality. Meditation techniques, such as progressive relaxation or deep breathing exercises, can relax the body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. This can contribute to improved overall health and vitality.

In a 2015 study, researchers examined the impact of mindfulness meditation on participants’ sleep patterns and found that those who embraced mindfulness meditation experienced a remarkable decrease in insomnia, fatigue, and even depression.

Researchers discovered that meditation’s ability to soothe the body and regulate the nervous system can be a game-changer when it comes to bedtime relaxation, paving the way for a profoundly improved sleep quality

Pain management: Meditation can be an effective tool for managing chronic pain.

A study conducted in 2016 revealed that adults grappling with persistent low-back pain experienced improvements in both functional limitations and back pain at 26 and 52-week marks when they integrated mindfulness techniques into their care regimen, surpassing the outcomes of those who received conventional care alone.

By practicing mindfulness meditation and focusing on the present moment, you could reduce your perception of pain and increase your pain tolerance. This can lead to a reduced reliance on pain medications and an improved quality of life.

Social Connection: While meditation is often seen as a solitary practice, many find a sense of community and belonging in group meditation sessions or classes. Engaging in meditation with others can foster social connections and combat feelings of isolation, which is especially important for those who may be living alone or in retirement communities.

“Ageing population groups tend to witness a decrease in socialisation, an increase in disconnection from their sense of self, meditation strengthens the connection between both mind and body and in turn can reduce a lot of these negative side effects,” Thomas says.

How to meditate

Meditation is about finding a peaceful moment within yourself, so don’t worry if your mind wanders – it’s part of the process. With practice, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a calmer mind and greater well-being.

Some steps that may help you achieve such results include:

Find a quiet place: Choose a peaceful spot where you won’t be disturbed.

Comfortable seating: Sit in a comfortable chair or on a cushion with your back straight but not tense.

Close your eyes: If you’re comfortable, close your eyes to minimise distractions.

Focus on your breath: Take slow, deep breaths. Pay attention to the sensation of each breath in and out.

Mind your thoughts: When your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath. Imagine your thoughts as passing clouds.

Use a mantra (Optional): Repeat a calming word or phrase silently if it helps you stay focused.

Set a timer: Start with a few minutes and gradually increase as you become more accustomed.

Relax and let go: Release any tension and simply be present in the moment.

End mindfully: When done, open your eyes and take a moment to reorient yourself.

Practice regularly: Consistency is key. Aim for daily sessions, even if they’re short.

Boyose suggests setting some “time and space” aside every day to practice meditation.

“Start with just a few minutes until you get used to it and slowly build to longer sessions,” she says.

“Dedicate a space for your practice that is quiet and private, where you can avoid distractions.”

Thomas reminds those giving meditation a go for the first time that it “can be as simple as starting with 5 minutes of mindfulness each day; meditation doesn’t always have to be eyes closed and silence.”

“It can be the practice of taking in the following; what you see, what you smell, what you can hear and what you can taste,” she explains.

“Automatically this helps to drop you into the present moment, and in turn, tap into the parasympathetic nervous system. The side of the nervous system is in charge of rest and digestion.”

Meditation is not just a trend for the younger generation; it’s a timeless practice that holds incredible benefits for individuals in their golden years. You don’t need to twist into pretzel-like poses or master ancient mantras to enjoy these advantages.

Meditation can promote inner peace, reduce stress, and enhance cognitive function. It can also improve your sleep, help manage chronic pain, and even foster social connections.

So, whether you’re a seasoned meditator or just starting out, consider carving out a few minutes each day to embrace this practice. As you embark on this journey of self-discovery and well-being, remember that it’s never too late to find serenity and wisdom in your golden years. So, go ahead, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let the benefits of meditation enrich your life.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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