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Mindfulness and Its Proven Impact on Loneliness

What you should know, and how to reap the benefits


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Maybe you know someone who stands by taking five minutes each morning to meditate or finds time after lunch to quiet his or her mind and focus on breathing. Whatever the method may be, incorporating “mindfulness” practices into your life can have a wide range of positive health benefits like improving your memory, sleep and immune system, along with reducing feelings of loneliness, stress and increasing compassion toward others and yourself.  

Simply put, mindfulness means taking time to pay attention to yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Read on to learn how you can put mindfulness into practice in your own life to help improve your overall health and productivity.

How to Make Mindfulness Part of Your Day

Tip No. 1: Find 5 to 10 minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. (Helpful hint: Put your phone on silent or in another room so you can concentrate!) Take the time to notice where your mind goes and how your body is feeling. You just might find that this helps you focus and prioritize your day. 

Tip No. 2: Before you go to bed, take time to focus on the good things that happened that day. Write your thoughts down in a journal. Writing them down can help you deliberately recognize the positive, even on a tough day.

Tip No. 3: Search for “mindfulness apps” on your smartphone or tablet that lead you in a mindfulness exercise. For many people, using an app is an easy way to remain consistent with the practice. And good news: many of these apps are free.

Feeling Lonely? Mindfulness Can Help.

It might be surprising to learn that mindfulness has been shown to help older adults overcome a silent but urgent health issue: loneliness. It is estimated that more than half of adults age 65 and over regularly experience moderate to severe loneliness. Loneliness is characterized by a marked difference between someone’s desired companionship and actual relationships. Through studies conducted by UnitedHealthcare and AARP, researchers are applying the techniques of mindfulness to help combat loneliness in older adults.

Loneliness poses a serious threat to the quality of life for older adults. In fact, loneliness is linked to negative health outcomes such as higher risk of dementia, mortality and disability.

"The health risk of chronic loneliness, in older adults, is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has a greater impact on mortality than obesity," says Charlotte Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer at AARP Services, Inc.

Researchers looked at whether mindfulness interventions, like breath awareness and self-compassion and kindness exercises, could positively impact a person’s optimism and quality of life — all factors that help reduce loneliness.

Conclusions were encouraging: Mindfulness activities were shown to decrease loneliness among older adults, not to mention the research demonstrated mindfulness reduced stress, improved memory, sleep, immune system, resiliency and compassion for self and others.

Although loneliness is complex and challenging to address, a mindfulness practice may help you live your best life.

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealthcare offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individualsemployers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with over 1.3 million physicians and care professionals, and more than 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide.

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