Mindfulness, exercise for the brain

Posted by on Oct 7, 2015

Mindful or ‘mind full’? Mindfulness as a psychological tool that has been widely linked to an array of health benefits, including better mental health, stress reduction and stronger immunity. It refers to the process of paying attention in a judgemental way to have a better experience of the present moment. Vast studies have shown that incorporating mindfulness has significant effects to the brain, and could literally change the brain structure in surprisingly positive ways.

Your Brain on Mindfulness

The human brain is a very complex structure which controls the rest of our body organs. The brain performs numerous processes, including formation and retrieval of memories, directing mobility, balance and coordination, and so on. It works 24 hours a day, non-stop, to keep your whole body functioning well. And just like all your other body parts, it get stressed too.

One great way to reduce the strain on your brain is to practice mindfulness. A recent study, published in 2014 in the Neuroscience and Behavioural Reviews, found that mindfulness has moderate effects on at least eight different brain regions. Some of which are involved in crucial functions like brain integration and connectivity, sense of self, impulse control, and regulation of attention and emotion.

One of the major brain areas that are greatly benefited by practicing mindfulness is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This region has a significant role in regulating emotions, impulses, cognitive flexibility, and attention. It also involved in problem-solving. The AAC is the part of the brain that helps an individual adapt and learn from experience. It is what helps us effectively cope with changes.

Another brain region that is enhanced during mindfulness is the corpus callosum – the part that connects the right and left hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere is involved in emotional, holistic and non-verbal processing, while the left hemisphere is associated with the literal, linear and logical verbal processing. What’s the benefit of a thicker corpus callosum? It suggests greater connectivity, and better ability to connect emotions to events in a logical manner.

Mindfulness also benefits our hippocampus – the brain region which is involved in the formation of long-term memories and spatial navigation. Without the hippocampus, you will be stuck in the memories of the past. In patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, the hippocampus tend to be smaller in size. The hippocampus is responsible for making you resilient with change and negative experiences. Unfortunately, it can be damaged easily by stress.


You can think of mindfulness as a fitness tool that enhances your mental muscle. The more you do it, the stronger your mental health becomes. By positively affecting these areas in the brain, mindfulness provides a wide range of neurological benefits. One of which is greater happiness. Second, it makes us more resilient. Life can get awry at times. But when we are resilient, we can overcome the challenges that come our way. Through mindfulness, we can change how our brain reacts to setbacks and obstacles in life. Third major benefit is lesser stress. Regularly practicing mindfulness lowers our stress reactivity threshold. Some studies suggest it may actually reduce amygdala. It is known that high activity in this area is associated with depression and anxiety disorder.

How long should you practice mindfulness? A well-known study suggests that practicing mindfulness meditation for at least 23 minutes per day can have profound benefits to the human brain. But even five or ten minutes can make a big difference. If you’re new to this mental exercise, you can start at this pace and try to add more time as you get used to the practice. You will be surprised of how mindfulness can largely benefit your mental health.

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