Free your mind so your health and happiness can follow.

Successful aging is about living life to the fullest, connecting with others in a satisfying way, gaining wisdom through life experiences, and being happy in your own skin. These things stem from your mind; and focusing on your brain can help lead the way to a healthy and happy life.

In our on-the-go, hectic lives, sitting in complete silence and connecting with the breath for several minutes per day can be very important for mental health. One of the most common reasons many turn to meditation is to combat stress.

A study conducted by Dr. Elissa Epel at the University of California San Francisco found in women with the highest levels of perceived stress, “their DNA had aged by the equivalent of one additional decade compared to low-stress women.” These results strongly suggest that both chronic environmental stress and perceived stress may be linked to premature aging.

Pause your life for a few minutes to be alone with your thoughts. Simple breathing exercises can be calming and may give you the opportunity to challenge, or accept, any negative thoughts and feelings. This exercise may help you shift your thoughts away from stress and toward relaxation.

Regular meditation can offer additional benefits. Here are some of our favorites:

1) Strengthened brain and body functions: Repeated and prolonged stress can negatively impact your body. The relaxation associated with meditation (along with proper sleep) can help your body stay strong so it can proactively fight bacteria and other threats.

Meditation may also improve memory retention by activating the hippocampus, or the portion of your mind that forms and stores memories.

2) Inner mindfulness: Meditation improves your cognitive thinking by helping you identify and control your emotions and reactions to daily occurrences. Taking the time to pause and reflect on your day – or preparing for the day ahead – can help you detach yourself from any negative events and feelings.

Mindfulness can empower you to improve your mental and emotional intelligence. An in-depth research exploration published in the Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience concluded that mindfulness may be advantageous for promoting cognitive, emotional, and physical health within the

context of advanced aging.

3) Improved mood: There’s abundant research linking meditation and other cognitive behavioral exercises to improved sleep among older adults. This is good news, since a lack of sleep is commonly associated with mood swings and overall negative dispositions, even heart disease.

Using your breath as an “anchor” can help you find the mindfulness to re-center your thoughts. Meditation can calm your “inner voice” that reminds you that you come first.

Whether it’s five or 20 minutes a day, there’s something reassuring about sitting, standing, or even walking in uninterrupted silence. Deep breathing techniques can steer your mind away from outside distractions and events, shifting your complete attention to the task at hand. Sometimes, the simple act of pausing for a few minutes can relax your mind so you can re-focus on what’s truly important in your day and in your life.

How can you add meditation into your life or reduce your stress today? Declare one action you will take in the comments below!