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“Age is just a number,” we often hear people saying. But do they indeed mean this? If they do, does life get better as we age? What is it that leads to our overall well-being? Studies reveal it is the wisdom and how we use mindfulness that makes our lives better.
According to researchers at Flinders University, healthy aging has certain characteristics of mindfulness that seem more strongly evident in older people compared to younger people and it suggests ways for all ages to benefit.
What is healthy aging?
Behavioural scientist Associate Professor Tim Windsor, co-author of a recent study based on an online community survey of 623 participants aged between 18 and 86 years says, “This suggests that mindfulness may naturally develop with time and life experience. The significance of mindfulness for wellbeing may also increase as we get older, the ability to focus on the present moment and to approach experiences in a non-judgmental way. These characteristics are helpful in adapting to age-related challenges and in generating positive emotions.”
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to the natural human ability to be aware of one’s experiences and to pay attention to the present moment in a purposeful, receptive, and non-judgmental way. Using mindful techniques can be instrumental in reducing stress and promoting positive psychological outcomes.
According to the Flinders University survey, from middle age to old age highlights the tendency to focus on the present moment and adopt a non-judgmental orientation may become especially important for well-being with advancing age.
In one of the first age-related studies of its kind, the researchers assessed participants’ mindful qualities such as present-moment attention, acceptance, and non-attachment and examined the relationships of these qualities with well-being more generally.
Leeann Mahlo, study lead author, who is investigating mindfulness in older adulthood as part of her PhD research says, “The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life. We found that positive relationships between aspects of mindfulness and well-being became stronger from middle age onwards. Our findings suggest that if mindfulness has benefits in later life, this could be translated into tailored training approaches to enhanced well-being in older populations. Mindfulness skills can help build well-being at any age.”
How to develop mindful techniques?
Tips to develop mindful techniques include:
• Becoming aware of our thoughts and surroundings and paying attention to the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way. This can prevent us from focusing on the past or worrying about the future in unhelpful ways.
• Understanding that our thoughts, feelings, and situations exist now and will not last. This can help us to respond in flexible, more optimistic ways to challenging circumstances, including those that we are facing with concerns related to the COVID-19 disease.
Find out more about mindfulness via app-based programs such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe & Think. These are available for use on computers or smartphones and offer flexible ways of learning and practicing mindfulness — including for people now spending more time at home.
Mental health among university students could be improved by introducing mindfulness training. These are the findings from the first UK study, published in Education Research International, to measure the efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on students.
Materials provided by Flinders University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Leeann Mahlo, Tim D. Windsor. Older and more mindful? Age differences in mindfulness components and well-being. Aging & Mental Health, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2020.1734915
Flinders University. “Why life can get better as we age.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200326101352.htm.
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