Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is a state of observation without judgment.

Mindfulness meditation is getting a lot of press lately, and for good reason. It has been found to be successful for the management of a range of mental health conditions, but its use for long-term chronic diseases has not been well investigated.

A recent study published in the journal Behavioral Medicine sought to understand the effects of mindfulness meditation in a group of people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The six-week meditation course taught participants to meditate on their own at home each day for 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of the program a reduction in worry and thought suppression was noted in the participants. The researchers state that mindfulness meditation could “prevent the onset of anxiety and mood disorders known to complicate medical management and self-care in people with long-term conditions.”

The researchers believe that the mindfulness and meditation intervention may have been particularly effective during the early phase of disease development or immediately after an acute event when participants’ perceived that anxiety and worry were highest. More studies are needed targeting individuals at the onset of disease.

People with diabetes and cardiovascular disease can benefit from mindfulness practices in these 5 ways:

Better eating habits. Mindful eating is an easy practice that involves paying complete attention to your food and how you feel as you eat. When you eat mindfully, you chew thoroughly, eat more slowly, and you enjoy every bite. You actually feel the moment when you become full, rather than eating past your comfort zone. (Been there, done that.)

Less stress. Mindfulness meditation practices help you deal with the challenges of life in a calmer, more effective way. Stress is a major contributor to chronic disease, and reducing it can help patients on their road to recovery. Studies have found that mindfulness meditation practices are effective for reducing stress. Mindfulness teaches you to recognize your perception so that events that once seemed stressful become less so.

Improved blood sugar control. A regular mindfulness practice can help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A 2007 study found that in adult patients with type 2 diabetes, a mindfulness-based stress reduction program was found to reduce their hemoglobin A1C blood sugar levels by 0.48%. In addition, measures of depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress also decreased.

Metabolic health. The benefits of mindfulness are far-reaching. In a 2013 study, male patients with heart disease who participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program experienced reduced depression and anxiety as well as lower blood pressure and body mass index. 

Anxiety control. Mindfulness is particularly beneficial for reducing feelings of anxiousness. In a 2003 study of women with heart disease, a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped the women control anxiety.

In the meantime, mindfulness meditation is an excellent practice for anyone with or without a health condition. Here is a great resource for guided meditations you can get started with today: UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.