Science says mindfulness meditation does help cut back smoking

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Mindfulness meditation can help smokers quit by strengthening their self control, according to the latest research.

In a study, a group of smokers who had been trained in mindfulness had reduced their smoking by around two-thirds after two weeks of mindfulness classes.

Scientists are looking to the brain to understand why setting a quit day isn’t a sure way to get rid of a nicotine habit.

Neuroimaging studies have shown that smokers have less activity in the brain regions associated with self-control.

“We are interested in trying to probe how repeated use of drugs ultimately influences our ability to control our desires,” says senior study author Nora Volkow, Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The latest study, by Texas Tech University and University of Oregon researchers, is reported in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Students were given 5 hours of 30 minute mindfulness sessions over two weeks. Many of the smokers thought they hadn’t cut back but medical tests showed a reduction.

“The students changed their smoking behaviour but were not aware of it,” says lead study author Yi-Yuan Tang, a Professor of Psychological Sciences at Texas Tech.

“When we showed the data to a participant who said they had smoked 20 cigarettes, this person checked their pocket immediately and was shocked to find 10 left.”

Other studies have shown how body-mind training can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as increase immune reactivity.

“Mindfulness meditation, as well as other strategies that are aimed at strengthening self-control, are likely to be useful for the management of addiction, but not necessarily for everybody,” Volkow says.

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