A woman meditates in a park in China where people have long incorporated mediation into their daily lives to balance the pressures of making a living and raising a family. Now, a major randomized, controlled European trial has shown the benefits to psychological well-being that meditation provides are real. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Meditating for 20 minutes daily for 18 months naturally boosted the psychological well-being of seniors, results from a new randomized controlled trial out Friday show.
The trial involving 130 otherwise healthy French speakers aged 65-84 in Caen, France, improved participants' awareness, connection to others and insight, according to the research conducted by a University College London-led consortium of European Universities and research centers and published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"As the global population ages, it is increasingly crucial to understand how we can support older adults in maintaining and deepening their psychological well-being. In our study, we tested whether long-term meditation training can enhance important dimensions of wellbeing," Marco Schlosser, a University College London psychiatry research fellow and University of Geneva doctoral candidate, said in a news release.
"Our findings suggest that meditation is a promising non-pharmacological approach to support human flourishing in late life."
The trial compared the test group, which followed an 18-month mediation program, 9 months' mindfulness training, a 9-month loving kindness and compassion module via weekly group sessions and a retreat day, with a group that received English lessons and a control group, which did neither.
The study found meditation training did no better than language classes in improving subjects' quality of life or one of the most commonly used measures of psychological well-being -- but the researchers suggest this may be due to limitations of existing tools for monitoring well-being.
The two conventional benchmarks, the researchers said, fail to encompass the qualities and depth of human flourishing that can be by fostered through longer-term meditation training, with the result that awareness, connection and insight benefits go unnoticed.
However, the longest randomized meditation training trial ever conducted did find meditation significantly boosted a global score of well-being dimensions of awareness, connection and insight, with awareness defined as "an undistracted and intimate attentiveness to one's thoughts, feelings and surroundings, which can support a sense of calm and deep satisfaction."
"Connection" relates to emotions including respect, gratitude and kinship that can help improve relationships with others. Insight refers to a self-knowledge and understanding of how thoughts and feelings participate in shaping our perception and how to switch-up negative thoughts about ourselves and the world around.
The worse a person's psychological state is, the greater the benefit the therapy confers. Positive outcomes were most significant among test participants reporting the lowest levels of mental well-being at the start of the trial who made the most progress, compared with those who entered the trial with high well-being scores.
The researchers say more research is needed to identify groups that might gain the greatest benefit from mediation training and to refine programs so that they deliver the maximum gains.
"By showing the potential of meditation programs, our findings pave the way for more targeted and effective programs that can help older adults flourish, as we seek to go beyond simply preventing disease or ill-health, and instead take a holistic approach to helping people across the full spectrum of human wellbeing, said senior author Antoine Lutz of the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center at Inserm.
The study was led by the European Union's Horizon 2020-funded Medit-Ageing research group which comprises UCL, Inserm, University of Geneva, Université de Caen Normandy, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, University of Liege, Technische Universitat Dresden and Friedrich Schiller University Jena.