In the first study to tease out the effects of different components of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, researchers have identified yoga and sitting meditation as particularly beneficial practices for promoting health among older adults.

Investigators from the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York, conducted the randomized, controlled study to examine the effects of specific MBSR program activities on immune function, inflammation, and mental and emotional outlook. The study, conducted over a 3-year period, involved 100 healthy male and female subjects over age 65.

Study authors found that of all the components—yoga, sitting and informal meditation, and the body scan exercise—practicing yoga and sitting meditation resulted in the greatest improvements in positive affect and in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) levels, which are associated with enhanced cognitive function in older adults. Mental and emotional outlook improved significantly in participants who did yoga twice a week, in addition to attending the weekly group session.

Study author Jan Moynihan, PhD, director of the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research, told IDEA Fitness Journal, “Our findings suggest that MBSR has some potential benefits for relatively healthy older adults. Additional studies might examine whether this type of alternative practice can also help older adults with risk factors, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”

The study was published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2013; doi: 10.1089/acm.2012.0028).

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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