If you’re starting to think about making some healthy lifestyle changes, there are lots of different approaches that you may have considered. It might be that you’ve set yourself some goals, you might have spent some time drawing up a menu plan or exercise schedule, or your might have enlisted the support of your friends and family to help motivate you. But there’s another approach, which isn’t quite so obvious, and that’s practicing mindfulness meditation. In this article, I’m going to explain a bit about what mindfulness is, the benefits of it, and how it can have a positive knock-on effect that can help support you to make healthy lifestyle changes.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means living in the present moment, rather than being caught up in our heads. It means being intentionally aware of what’s happening in any given moment and tuning into our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations with gentle acceptance. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that can be used to help cultivate greater mindfulness in our day-to-day lives. It typically involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing for a set period. Every time your mind starts to wander, you notice it’s happened, and gently bring your attention back to your breath. With time, your ability to sit and focus on your breathing will improve and you’ll likely experience less mind wandering.
You might only practice mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day, but research has shown that even short periods of practice can have huge benefits. It can help to improve your sense of wellbeing, promote a feeling of calm, improve your focus and concentration, and help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. As well as this, it can also increase self-compassion, reduce stress, improve sleep, and reduce emotional reactivity, all of which can support healthy lifestyle changes, as I’ll go on to explain.
Practicing mindfulness meditation has been found to increase compassion for others, as well as towards ourselves, which is great news as this can support our attempts to improve our health behaviour. The reason for this is because people who show themselves a greater degree of kindness and compassion are more likely to pick themselves up and continue with their healthy behaviours, even after experiencing a setback of some sort. Not only this, but being kind to yourself when things feel challenging, prevents you from getting stuck in a negative cycle of shame and self-criticism, which can sometimes lead to further unhealthy behaviours.
Improved sleep is another benefit of mindfulness meditation that can help support other healthy lifestyle changes you might be trying to make, particularly in relation to diet and exercise. If you’re trying to make healthier food choices, getting enough sleep is crucial. Being sleep deprived increases the hormone Ghrelin, that makes you feel hungry, and decreases the hormone Leptin, which makes you feel full and satisfied, meaning you’ll be hungrier and more likely to snack! When it comes to exercise, its quite an obvious one, but if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not going to have the energy or motivation to be as physically active. Incorporating a short meditation in your daily routine is therefore important if you want to prioritise sleep and benefit from being well-rested.
Reduced stress levels are another great outcome of incorporating regular mindfulness meditation in your routine. However, the knock-on positive effects of better managing your stress levels are that you’re likely to get a better night’s sleep (see above for why this is good news), and you’ll be in a better headspace to prioritise making other healthy decisions. When we’re in that ‘fight or flight’ state, we are often focusing solely on the problems in front of us and are less likely to be thinking about preparing ourselves nutritious meals or prioritising exercise, for example. Using mindfulness meditation to reduce our stress levels enables us to feel better overall and to focus on other healthy activities that matter to us on any given day.
Reduced emotional reactivity
People who practice mindfulness meditation often experience less emotional reactivity. This is important if you’re someone whose eating or drinking behaviour is sometimes driven by strong emotions and a desire to seek comfort in food or alcohol. Becoming more mindful allows us to be more present in the day-to-day and less caught up with our thoughts and feelings. Meditating regularly can mean that you’re better able to catch yourself in the moment, and to identify and sit with whatever emotions are coming up for you, rather than instinctively reaching for unhealthy food or alcohol as a way to cope.
Find out more
If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, there are lots of apps you can download that provide free guided meditations, like Headspace or Calm, for example. Depending on where you live, there might also be in-person classes available in your local area, so take a look online to find out more.