Therapy

Practicing Mindfulness May Boost Your Immunity

natural immunity

Mindfulness-based stress reduction tactics can help protect your body from disease, new research shows.

By Leah Zerbe

If you’re new to mindfulness, get your feet weight by trying mindful eating as a way to build natural immunity.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Using a form of meditation known as mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, not only reduces anxiety and improves your quality of life, but can actually boost your immune system naturally, helping you ward off disease, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Mindfulness meditation, in its simplest form, is focusing on the present in a non-judgmental way. “Mindfulness practice helps to reduce stress by helping people learn to quiet the mind and relax the body. In the process, they learn to observe their thoughts,” explains Rodale.com advisor and clinical psychologist Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. “They become skillful at identifying and not reacting to judgmental and negative thoughts that contribute to stress, anxiety, depression, and unhappiness. Instead, they cultivate an attitude of compassionate acceptance of themselves and others.”

And this new study shows this positive state of mind can help your body as well as your mind.

natural immunity

Mindfulness-based stress reduction tactics can help protect your body from disease, new research shows.

By Leah Zerbe

If you’re new to mindfulness, get your feet weight by trying mindful eating as a way to build natural immunity.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Using a form of meditation known as mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, not only reduces anxiety and improves your quality of life, but can actually boost your immune system naturally, helping you ward off disease, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Mindfulness meditation, in its simplest form, is focusing on the present in a non-judgmental way. “Mindfulness practice helps to reduce stress by helping people learn to quiet the mind and relax the body. In the process, they learn to observe their thoughts,” explains Rodale.com advisor and clinical psychologist Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. “They become skillful at identifying and not reacting to judgmental and negative thoughts that contribute to stress, anxiety, depression, and unhappiness. Instead, they cultivate an attitude of compassionate acceptance of themselves and others.”

And this new study shows this positive state of mind can help your body as well as your mind.

THE DETAILS: Researchers, led by a Fox Chase Cancer Center investigator, looked at 24 healthy adults between the ages of 28 and 72 and monitored immunity biomarkers through blood tests while the participants took part in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The participants who reported improvements in their general well-being during the classes also enjoyed a drop in average levels of C-reactive protein, a substance found in the body that is associated with inflammation and disease, as well as a higher level of activity by the immune system’s protective “killer cells.” “The study found that among the participants in the mindfulness program, the ones who experienced enhanced immunity were the ones who reported less stress and improved mental health at the end of the program.” explains Rossman. “We know from previous research that excessive stress causes inflammation and decreased natural killer cell activity.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Although the study was small—just 24 healthy adults—the results suggest a way to boost immunity. And while many of us are loyal to taking daily vitamins to stay healthy, the vast majority of people don’t practice mindfulness to boost immunity, reduce stress, and live a healthier life. The good news is anyone can learn to do this, and it doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

Here’s what you need to know about mindfulness, a natural immunity booster:

• Start with your spoon. “One simple but powerful way to begin to experience mindfulness is through mindful eating,” explains Rossman. “Take a little time to eat one thing mindfully.”

Here’s how:

Take a small piece of food (Rossman likes to do this exercise using a raisin) and savor it slowly, paying attention to its fragrance, texture, how it feels as it touches your lips and tongue. Instead of just quickly chomping down and swallowing it, be mindful of not only the flavor, but also any memories that it may incite. After you eat it, notice how you feel. (But don’t judge yourself.) Not only is this an easy way to experience mindfulness, the more you can do this while eating, the less prone you’ll be to overeat.

• Let an expert guide you. While mindful eating is certainly a great place to start, there are other ways to get started, or dive deeper, into mindfulness meditation that can improve concentration, help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or improve symptoms of depression or anxiety. The good news is, mainstream medicine is starting to pay attention to the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction, so it’s easier to learn more or find a practitioner in your area. If you have the means, attending a mindfulness course, workshop, or retreat can also help you get started. But reading books or listening to mindfulness CDs will also deepen your understanding, says Rossman, who recommends Wherever You Go, There You Are (Hyperion, 2005) by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and The Miracle of Mindfulness (Beacon Press, 1999) by Tich Nhat Hanh.

If you prefer to listen rather than read, Rossman recommends Kabat-Zinn’s audio programs, including Mindfulness for Beginners.

For more information, look for an MBSR program near you.

Leave a Reply