Is Meditation a Cure for Loneliness?

CNN reports that a new study led by J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon, confirms some of what science already knows―mindfulness meditation is therapeutic for relieving stress. But in addition to that, Creswell’s study, which focused on the benefits of meditation for seniors, confirmed new and previously unexplored advantages of the practice, such as decreasing loneliness and reducing the bodily inflammation associated with disease in adults.

Creswell notes that loneliness in adults―particularly in the elderly―can be as detrimental to their health as smoking. He explains to CNN, "It's a big problem. Lots of researchers have tried to find ways, like social networks created through community centers, to reduce loneliness in older adults, but none of the approaches really works well."

The difficulty with attacking the problem from that angle, as Creswell explains, is that loneliness isn’t necessarily due to a low number of social contacts. Instead, it’s really about having a subjective perception of feeling disconnected. In his study, Creswell was able to prove that for the participants, mindfulness meditation decreased their feelings of disconnection. Conversely, the control group who abstained from meditation felt their condition stayed the same, or became worse.  

But decreased loneliness wasn't the only benefit found during the study.  Blood tests were administered to all participants before and after treatment. In comparison to the control group, the meditators showed a significant reduction in blood markers for inflammation after eight weeks of practice. Bodily inflammation plays a key role in the development of diseases, such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a multitude of others.

Creswell explains, "It is amazing. For the first time, we are seeing that a behavioral practice―paying attention to your experience from moment to moment―has the power to change the gene expression in your immune cells."

Creswell explains that the next step will be replicating the study on a larger scale and incorporating other age groups. 

What would it take for you to incorporate a daily mindfulnes meditation practice into your health regimen? 

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for Email Andri | @andritweets |

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