Mindfulness and meditation can reduce our risk of depression by up to 63%. Here, health writer Hannah Gresty breaks down the buzzword.

Mindfulness has transformed from a media buzzword to become a $1bn industry, with the Mental Health Foundation even hailing mindfulness-based therapy as a ‘life changing approach’ to tackling mental illness. But what does being ‘mindful’ entail and how does it affect us emotionally and physically?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness as a practice involves consciously paying attention to the here and now, to our thoughts and emotions, so that we can understand and untangle them, and therefore better manage them.

Mindfulness practices include yoga, deep breathing and meditation, and countless studies have shown the positive effect of these on our wellbeing. Scientists believe the act of self-reflection can significantly reduce our stress hormones.

A new report from Harvard Medical School has found that mindfulness can actually alter the way your brain works. After comparing brain scans, researchers found that two months of mindful meditation can change our brain activity and decrease our risk of depression by 63%. And the good news is it doesn’t require a massive investment of time; researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that mindfulness sessions as short as 20 minutes could improve cognitive function.

How can I start being more mindful?

With over 1,000 mindfulness apps now available, it’s easy to incorporate bite-sized sessions into your daily routine. One of the most downloaded, Headspace, has hundreds of guided meditation audio tracks that can teach you how to be more present and focused. You can also earn Vitality points when you sync the app while you meditate.

Last year, 1.4 million people were referred for talking therapy to help with common mental health problems. To find out what the increasingly popular treatment involves and how you might benefit from it, click here.

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