Your mental health matters throughout your lifetime. Whether you had a rough childhood or an idyllic one, whether you experienced a midlife crisis or not, a healthy mindset makes all the difference as you age. The challenges associated with later life—caring for aging parents, strained relationships, memory loss, and more—may be unavoidable. But by focusing on your mental health by practicing mindfulness, you’ll not only enjoy a more fulfilled adulthood—increased energy and focus, elevated mood, improved memory—you may also curb your risk of developing dementia.
According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, practicing mindfulness and meditation can help relieve chronic stress, which has a significant negative impact on brain health and may accelerate cognitive decline.
We want to help you enjoy later life so we’ve compiled this resource guide that includes:
- Advice for making mindfulness part of your everyday life
- Simple ways to practice meditation
- Real-life stories of achieving mental wellness
Why Mindfulness Matters for Healthy Aging
While you can’t prevent aging, there’s also no reason to fear it, says Sherry Skyler Kelly, a West Hartford-based clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist, who began her training in mindfulness practices in 1992.
“The good news is we have a lot more control over our aging than we at first realize,” says Kelly. In the therapy and coaching work she does across the country, Kelly has evaluated adults of all ages through a variety of cognitive changes.
She found that adults follow a pattern of wellness or decline, and the path they take is heavily linked to one area: lifestyle choices. This led her to create a “MAKE-it-positive” plan for healthy aging that involves having each of these elements in your life every day:
- M = Mindfulness, Meditation, Mood, Mindset & Music
- A = Activities & Action (Behavioral Activation)
- K = Keeping Connected to Others & Social Support
- E = Exercise & Energy Work
Reducing Stress by Practicing Mindfulness
Even if you make the choice to embrace a healthy lifestyle, how can mindfulness help reduce stress in your daily life? Joy Rains is author of “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind” and host of the podcast “Mindful 180” and she believes it all comes down to staying present.
“Since mindfulness helps you experience life in the ‘here and now,’ you may notice tension that you hadn’t noticed before,” says Rains. “For example, you might realize that your breathing is shallow or your muscles are tense or that you’re adding to your stress by imagining negative scenarios. Becoming aware of tension can help you release it.”
Practicing mindfulness is possible anytime by simply pausing and checking in with your body, Rains says. “Notice your breathing, even for one breath. Feel the soles of your feet as they touch the ground when you walk. Notice the feeling of the water as you wash your hands.”
Meditation in Five Easy Steps
You can also learn to become mindful by practicing meditation. Rains offers these simple instructions to get started.
First, choose a consistent time and location, such as a chair or floor cushion in a quiet room. Start with 2-3 minutes daily, setting a timer if needed. As you become used to meditating, gradually increase your time to 15-20 minutes. Try to fit in at least a few minutes a day to maintain a routine, Rains recommends.
For your daily routine:
1. Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed but your mind alert.
2. Choose an anchor—a neutral object or idea to focus on that doesn’t stimulate your mind. Examples of commonly used anchors include your breath, your body, a word repeated silently, such as peace; sounds, such as ocean waves; or an object to hold, such as a smooth stone.
3. Rest your attention on your anchor. Every time your mind wanders, gently refocus on your anchor. For beginners, this may be as often as every second or two.
4. Accept your wandering mind. The intent of meditation isn’t to suppress thoughts and feelings. Consider anything that draws attention away from your anchor to be like a cloud passing or like a boat floating by as you watch from the riverbank. Allow it to pass without judgment and gently refocus on your anchor—the repetitive action of refocusing trains you to become mindful.
5. Continue gently refocusing on your anchor for the rest of your practice time. Repeat this cycle each time you practice meditation.