In recent years, the topic of mindfulness has become prominent in both our conversations and aspirations as a path to improve the quality of our lives. Many of us make conscious efforts to practice it, often through some form of meditation or relaxation technique, to minimize forgetfulness, anxiety, or inattention. Both mindfulness and its opposite have earned colloquial value as well, alluding to concerns of having a diminished awareness of the world around us, or performing in a mindless state. There are few among us who haven’t had their share of mindless moments, forgetting where we placed our house keys, or defiantly tugging at the door handle of a store, not noticing the “use other entrance” sign.
Each February the National Institutes of Health encourages us to observe “heart month.” Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. Its website contains useful information and suggestions to help us all have healthy hearts: bit.ly/Heart_Healthy_DCHC. One of the “Seven Days of Self-Care” that the website recommends is “Mindful Monday.” On “Mindful Monday,” we are encouraged to know our blood pressure numbers, and other heart-related measures. Blood pressure, when elevated, can result in major health problems. Unfortunately, high blood pressure generally produces no symptoms until it damages our health. High blood pressure is usually easily treated. However, to treat it, you must know you have it — you must be “mindful” of its presence. And after you know of high blood pressure’s presence, you must continue to be mindful to adhere to recommended therapies, and continue to be mindful of their potential side effects.
Being mindful has benefits for much more than one’s heart. Knowing your blood sugar helps you to know if you have or are at risk of developing diabetes. Knowing how your child’s weight compares with a healthy weight for their age allows you to guide their diet and activities to help them grow healthy and strong. And knowing the signs of depression can help you get effective treatment for yourself or for people you love. In living a healthy life, there is no substitute for being mindful.
Health-focused organizations recognize the importance of knowledge. Consequently, in the U.S., and in much of the world, they designate particular months, weeks, and/or days to encourage us to be mindful about specific issues that may be relevant to our lives. A Healthgrades website lists well over 250 events on its 2023 Health Observances Calendar: bit.ly/Health_Observances. This comprehensive calendar also contains links to resources that will be literally helpful to everyone.
Some prominent upcoming health observances are:
- National Nutrition Month, March: eatright.org/national-nutrition-month
- Health Care Decisions Day, April 16: theconversationproject.org/nhdd
- National Cancer Control Month, April: cancer.gov
- National Women’s Health Week, May 14–20: womenshealth.gov/nwhw/about
- Mental Health Awareness Month, May: bit.ly/Mental_Health_Month_DCHC
As helpful as it is, being mindful can be much more than paying attention to one’s health. When put into practice, mindfulness becomes an overarching skill that envelops every facet of our lives. Being mindful can be a way of life. It helps us to choose the right words during our conversations, prevents negative thoughts from gaining a place to fester, and may even provide a more restful night’s sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our country’s top science-based and data-driven service organization, suggests that being in a mindful state can also help us with our health.
Research has demonstrated a number of psychological benefits of mindfulness practices like meditation. Reduced stress, increased ability to focus, better memory, reduced depression, better relationships, and a variety of physical benefits are all demonstrated results of a regular meditation and mindfulness practice. A wide variety of programs exist for those who wish to explore the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. The UMass Memorial Mindfulness Center has been a world leader in mindfulness training, and has online programs. For those who wish to explore meditation, The New York Times has a beginner’s guide on how to meditate: bit.ly/How_to_Meditate.
Whether one chooses to practice a lifestyle of mindfulness or not, being mindful of one’s health clearly leads to better health. Being mindful every day, not just on a particular day, is an excellent resolution for this new year.