It’s often believed that cognition, memory and brain health inevitably decline with age. However, research suggests that proactive care and intervention can slow any cognitive changes that occur as a result of age.
A healthy lifestyle that combines moderate exercise, a nutritious diet and regular mental stimulation can help prevent and slow the progression of many age-related neurological conditions. In addition, reducing stress and anxiety plays a significant role in improving and protecting brain health.
Mindfulness activities like meditation can be used to promote a healthier brain. These activities can be done from the comfort of home or in a group setting and act as an effective way to stimulate the brain while providing stress relief.
While meditation is a frontrunner in mindfulness activities for seniors, there are other exercises that can help older adults practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness activities to improve your brain health:
- Deep breathing
- Raisin exercise
- Body scan
- Mind mapping
- Morning journal
- Mood tracking
Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation for Seniors
From stress relief to changing the physical volume of the brain, there are many ways mindfulness can benefit seniors.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of practicing mindfulness activities like meditation is stress relief. Stress takes a toll on the body and can result in serious conditions like hypertension, heart disease, obesity and memory loss if left untreated.
As stress is reduced through mindfulness activities and exercises, other health benefits begin to appear as a result.
Mindfulness activities like meditation have been found to slow the progression of memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A specific type of mindful meditation, Kirtan Kriya (KK) meditation, is thought to stabilize synapses in the brain by increasing neurotransmitters. This is vital to the process of slowing memory loss as synaptic dysfunction is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Mindfulness meditation can also help reduce the stress and symptoms of depression caused by memory loss.
A key feature of meditation is deep breathing. Circulation is an important factor in digestive function, and by increasing the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, digestive organs like the stomach and intestines are able to perform more effectively.
Stress is often an underlying cause of problems associated with digestion. Inflammation, acid reflux, ulcers and even allergies can all be caused by high levels of stress. By focusing the mind, the body may be able to relax and return to normal performance.
Older adults living with memory conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s may experience mood swings, changes in behavior and increased reactivity to stimulants like noise, crowds and activity. In addition, those who have experienced loss or are going through a significant change – like a move to a nursing home – may have symptoms of depression.
Fortunately, mindfulness meditation is an effective way to manage mood swings and improve disposition. Through an increased awareness of one’s emotions, practitioners of mindfulness meditation are better able to address negative feelings and thoughts before they grow.
Meditation can help to increase alertness, attention and thought processing speed, especially for older adults. In fact, meditation has a significant effect on cognition in several areas.
Physical changes to the brain –– Mindfulness has been found to increase the volume of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory, emotional regulation and perspective.
Preservation of brain volume –– Participants in a study who meditated regularly for 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain than those who did not meditate. While older meditators experienced more volume loss than their younger meditating counterparts, the loss was not as significant as the loss of volume in non-meditators.
Changes in depression symptoms –– A John Hopkins study found that mindfulness meditation reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain at the same rate as antidepressant medication.
Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways, but some methods have become popular for their clear benefits. Below are some techniques for practicing mindfulness.
Deep breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) can improve blood pressure, relieve stress, lower heart rate and manage symptoms of anxiety.
Try this: Deep Breathing Circle
- Draw a large circle on a piece of paper.
- Make a small mark at the top and bottom of the circle (12 and 6 on the clock).
- In a clockwise direction, trace your finger along the circle from the top mark to the bottom mark. Inhale slowly as your finger moves towards the bottom of the circle.
- When you reach the bottom of the circle, begin to trace your finger back up towards the top, exhaling slowly as you go.
- Try to maintain a slow, steady pace as you trace the circle.
- Focus on the movement of air in and out of your lungs.
This simple exercise is a good way to begin practicing mindfulness. It involves centering your attention entirely on one object and can help seniors minimize worry while building focus.
While the exercise’s name suggests raisins, any food can be used. An unfamiliar food or one with unusual qualities works best.
The participant should pretend they have never seen the food before. They should then note or describe the following qualities of the food in detail:
- How it looks
- How it feels
- How it smells
- How it tastes
For many seniors, especially those living with memory loss and other cognitive conditions, it can feel as though thought and emotion control is impaired. Allowing the mind to focus on one object and its qualities can give mindfulness practitioners greater control of their feelings and enhanced awareness of their thoughts.
A body scan exercise is an effective way to increase awareness of oneself, noting any tension in the body and relaxing it slowly.
Try this: Head-To-Toe Body Scan
- Lie on your back with your palms facing upward and your feet slightly apart.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath, making it steady.
- Move your attention to your feet, noting any tension you find and releasing it.
- Focusing on one area at a time, move slowly up the body until you focus on your head.
- Return your attention to the breath and observe any changes.
- Open your eyes and note any differences you feel within the body.
Other Mindfulness Exercises
In addition to the activities listed above, try these mindfulness exercises for added benefit:
- Start a gratitude journal
- Meditate in the shower
- Set three daily goals
- Be present in the moment
- Enjoy nature
- Recite positive affirmations
- Focus on the outcome of an action
- Stretch periodically
- Observe changes in mood
- Create a mind map
- Listen to calming music
- Create daily rituals
- Try therapeutic coloring
- Turn off the television
- Plan the following day
- Keep an evening journal
- Use aromatherapy
- Practice guided sleep meditation
These printables can be used to practice mindfulness from the comfort of home.
- Printer paper
- Colored printer ink
- Pencils, pens or markers
Instructions for printing:
- Click the “download all” button.
- Print out the activities.
- Follow the instructions for each activity.
A mind map is a great tool for becoming more aware of one’s thoughts and emotions. It allows the user to take an idea or thought and break it into smaller topics.
The benefits of mind mapping:
- Organization of thoughts
- Identification of relationships between topics or concerns
- Increased memory and retention through color-coding
Here are a few prompts to help you get started as you work on the printable:
- What are you most worried about right now?
- What tasks do you need to do this week?
- How are you feeling?
- What makes you happy?
Taking time in the morning to reflect and practice mindfulness can set up the rest of the day for healthier living.
The benefits of morning mindfulness practice:
- Decreases anxiety
- Promotes health-minded decisions
- Encourages a positive outlook
Use this morning journaling worksheet to start your day with a mindful approach.
Staying aware of changes in mood is a crucial part of mindfulness. To help you track your daily emotions, color this printable for a visual understanding of your mind.
The benefits of tracking your mood:
- Identify patterns in mood change
- Understand triggers
- Aid diagnosis of mental health disorders
While mindfulness offers many benefits for healthier aging, it is important to understand that most do not “master” the practice.
Beginners to mindfulness practice may find their thoughts wandering often, particularly during meditation. Through mindfulness practice, however, it is important to refrain from judging oneself. It is natural for the mind to wander –– simply bring the attention back to the present moment once the distraction is noticed.
As mindfulness becomes incorporated into your daily routine, the practice becomes easier, more natural and increasingly beneficial over time. Of course, it’s important to remember that while these activities are a great way to manage your health, they are not meant to replace medications, treatment plans or visits to the doctor.
When it comes to aging, caring for the brain is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. To help improve cognition and reduce the risk of developing health conditions like memory loss, high blood pressure and diabetes, minimize stress through daily mindfulness activities. In addition to mindfulness practice, incorporate moderate exercise and a nutritious diet into your daily routine for the best results.