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25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress, lowers cortisol levels

Only 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress, say researchers. New research, "Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress," from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people's ability to be resilient under stress. Stress can raise cortisol levels, which in turn, could lead to more belly fat, or insulin resistance, but mindfulness may reduce too high cortisol levels.

25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress, lowers cortisol levels.
Anne Hart, photography.

Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve their mental and physical health, yet most research supporting its benefits has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs. The question for readers interested in holistic health is whether mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity?

"More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits," said lead author J. David Creswell, according to the July 2, 2014 news release, "Only 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress." Creswell is an associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.

Saliva samples were taken to measure levels of cortisol, the stress hormone

Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.

The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.

"When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task," said Creswell, according to the news release. "And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."

Creswell's group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.

In addition to Creswell, the research team consisted of Carnegie Mellon's Laura E. Pacilio and Emily K. Lindsay and Virginia Commonwealth University's Kirk Warren Brown. The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund supported this research.

You also may find noteworthy the abstracts of these other studies, "Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction." Or take a look at, "Cortisol and cognitive function in midlife: The role of childhood cognition and educational attainment." There's also a study of interest to those concerned with abdominal fat issues exacerbated by chronic stress, "Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk." In that study, researchers found that chronic stress is associated with enhanced vulnerability to diet-related metabolic risk (abdominal adiposity, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress). Stress-induced peripheral NPY may play a mechanistic role. About NPY, also known as perhipheral neuropeptide Y, in preclinical studies, the combination of chronic stress and a high sugar/fat diet is a more potent driver of visceral adiposity than diet alone, a process mediated by peripheral neuropeptide Y (NPY), the study's abstract explains.

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