by Pat Staszak, PT
This year in our blog, we explored how lifestyle, nutrition and stress can affect tissue health and ultimately whole-body health. We discussed how poor nutritional choices and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to chronic tissue inflammation, osteoarthritis and many other chronic diseases. We also learned that the gut biome plays a key role in maintaining a person’s health.
This month, we’ll explore meditation and mindfulness training—a promising way to manage pain from osteoarthritis and improve tissue health. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present moment. It involves both concentration and acceptance. When you’re mindful, you deliberately observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them as positive or negative, simply allowing them to exist and acknowledging them. The most effective way to improve mindfulness is with daily meditation.
Meditation is a mindfulness technique, a mental exercise practiced in sitting or any comfortable position with the goal of avoiding a sense of ‘doing’ (which includes assigning value to thought, making lists in your head, planning your day, or even forcing yourself to feel peaceful!). Like anything new, meditation takes practice, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with two or three minutes and gradually add time until you feel comfortable with 20 minutes per day.
Consistency is key. Devoting time in your daily routine to meditation will not only help your body and mind adjust to a meditative practice, but will have thelong-term benefits of continual self-care. Consideryour daily meditation a scheduled interval of “me time” to recharge your battery. Make it a priority like any other appointment in your day.
Recent studies have shown meditation can be a powerful tool for improving a wide range of physical and mental health issues. Meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and decrease depression and anxiety. Meditation also improves immune function and decreases inflammation and pain by lowering stress hormones and oxidative stress—in short, meditation actually appears to improve cell longevity. Additionally, a recent study from the Netherlands that suggests mindfulness can increase exercise satisfaction.
Meditation is a physical experience, and also an emotional one. It is important to note that mindfulness extends beyond the meditation cushion or yoga mat. Research findings suggest that the more mindful we are in our everyday lives—the more fully present we are in day-to-day tasks—the happier we are. Being happier and less stressed also puts us in a better frame of mind to eat healthy foods. An added bonus–Those who eat mindfully usually eat less!
At APT, we love it when our patients exercise and live mindfully. The inward focus allows for better attention to healthy breath patterns, holding a well-aligned, neutral body position and the utilization of stabilizing muscles.
Try it. The next time you go for a walk or bike ride, try to let go of your distractions and pay attention to the rhythm of your breath, the movement of your legs and the position of your body. Notice how you feel during and after your workout when practicing mindfulness in this way. It’s likely that you’ll be able to do your exercise more effectively and safely.
Want to read more about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness? Check out these links below.