Advertising
Advertising

Published on April 29, 2021

6 Health Benefits of Meditation (Backed By Science)

6 Health Benefits of Meditation (Backed By Science)

Meditation has a long history dating back at least 3000 years ago. It began as a practice within Hinduism. Perhaps this is the reason why when many people think of meditation, they imagine someone sitting in a lotus pose, legs crossed, hands raised, and eyes closed.

What’s missing from this stereotype is an understanding of how much meditation has become a variegated practice of enhancing mental control, clarity, and repose. Although some people continue to use meditation as part of their religious practice, the majority of those who practice meditation do so to reap its many health benefits.

This is understandable given how little time it takes to effectively employ meditation daily (about 20 minutes—less time than most people spend catching up on social media).

Let’s take a look at the six science-backed health benefits of meditation.

1. Stronger the Immune System

One of the more surprising aspects of meditation is its impact on your immune system. It turns out that regularly calming your mind has a way of building up resistance to various illnesses.[1] That’s not to say that meditation is a firewall that will prevent you from ever getting the flu again. Even so, the evidence is pretty strong that it can significantly reduce the chances of your becoming sick.

An example of this benefit comes from a study that compared three groups of people. There was a control group where no changes were made to their daily lives, an exercise group where the members completed a set of daily exercises and a meditation group whose members practiced meditation daily.

The study found that after eight weeks, the meditation group had 30% fewer respiratory infections when compared to controls. What’s more, the severity of those illnesses that did occur among people in the meditation group was significantly less than either the exercise or control group.[2]

The takeaway lesson: a regular dose of medication may be just the thing to help guard against some illnesses.

Advertising

How does this work? No one knows for certain. Even so, it seems likely that because meditation reduces stress, this has the follow-on effect of helping the body stay in a strong state of readiness to combat illness.

2. Decreased Psychological Stress

Everyone experiences stress. If you are conscious, then you experience stress. Some sources of stress are pleasant, such as getting married, going on a vacation, moving into your dream home. Many sources of stress are unpleasant, like being fired from work, the loss of a loved one, the cost of having your car repaired.

No matter the source and no matter whether the stress is pleasant or cringeworthy, it can take a toll on your mental and physical reserves. Consequently, finding effective ways to control your stress is important for living a full and rewarding life.

Meditation can be one of the tools used to reach this goal. This has been shown in many studies. For example, researchers Cara Geary and Susan Rosenthal compared stress levels in two groups of subjects over the course of eight weeks. One group received training in meditation (and then performed it consistently) while the other group coped with stress in their usual manner.

Not surprisingly, the meditation group had significantly less stress after eight weeks. But what is more surprising is that the meditation group continued to have lower stress levels one year later. Moreover, they also rated their overall sense of well-being as higher than those who had not received training in meditation.[3]

The takeaway lesson is that a brief introduction to meditation can lead to lifestyle changes that have long-term impacts.

3. Enhanced Quality of Sleep

Everyone has experienced how much sleep impacts their mood and their ability to function effectively. A good night’s rest sets the foundation for the day ahead. Likewise, a night of tossing and turning creates an obstacle to pushing forward toward your goals the following day.

It’s a well-known problem that 60 million Americans struggle with each year.[4] If you are one of those who chronically wrestle with getting enough good quality sleep, meditation may just be the thing that helps you turn the corner.

Advertising

One study that supports this idea included a group of participants that were studied for one year. All participants presented with significantly disturbed sleep. The researchers divided the group into two subgroups. One was taught simple meditation techniques. The other group was given instructions on how to get a better night’s rest (e.g., establish routines, decrease caffeine intake, etc.).

At the end of the year, these two groups showed significant differences in their quality of sleep. The meditation group had markedly improved sleep—similar to what is found with those who use medication to treat sleep problems. They found that the power of meditation to improve the quality of sleep was roughly equal to that of medication or cognitive behavior therapy.[5]

The other group—the one that was provided sleep education/instruction—showed only mild improvement in sleep.

But it is not just one study that supports the link between meditation and improved sleep. A 2018 review of 18 studies on meditation, including a total of 1654 participants, found that meditation improved the quality of sleep much more than using a “wait and see” approach.[6]

4. Decreased Cellular Aging

Although practicing meditation does not lead to eternal youth, it does appear to reduce the speed at which cells age and eventually decay. It seems likely that part of the mechanism by which meditation induces this effect is by increasing the presence of telomerase, an enzyme that protects genes from aging (protects, but does not ultimately prevent).[7]

When this enzyme is scarce, cells tend to age faster. When it is in abundance, cells age more slowly. Likewise, the telomerase enzyme increases when someone is coping well with life and decreases when one feels extremely stressed.

Meditation appears to cause an increase in this enzyme and, consequently, reduces the rate of cellular aging. The mechanism by which this happens may be the reduction in psychological stress that is often seen in those who meditate. By reducing tension in life, and increasing a sense of well-being, the presence of telomerase should increase. In turn, cells live longer.

The longer your cells live, the more slowly they need to be replaced, and the slower you age.

Advertising

5. Increased Memory

Several studies show that meditation enhances memory. It improves blood flow in the brain, which may account for the improvements in memory.

Although research has not shown that one form of meditation is superior to another, it has shown that it only takes about ten minutes of meditation each day for someone to experience these benefits. Moreover, the improvements in memory begin to show up soon after someone begins to make meditation a daily habit.

An example of this is found in a study that compared two groups of subjects. The first group consisted of people who listened to a 13-minute guided meditation recording each day. The other group of subjects listened to a 13-minute podcast (unrelated to meditation).

At the end of eight weeks, both groups were tested and the one that performed daily meditation showed significant improvement in both long-term memory and recognition memory. Not surprisingly, those that meditated also showed less stress.[8]

6. Decreased Anxiety

Anxiety is part of life that everyone experiences from time to time. It arises, becomes a momentary nuisance, is dealt with, and resolved.

For some people, however, anxiety becomes a major source of concern—one that has life-changing consequences: loss of employment, ruined relationships, squandered opportunities, and physical illness.[9] Even milder (but chronic) anxiety can have a significant impact on one’s happiness and ability to function at his or her best.

Fortunately, many effective approaches reduce or eliminate anxiety. These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), medication, Exposure Therapy, Corrective Experience Focused Therapy, and others. But none of these approaches can compete with the simplicity and ease of meditation.

A 2010 review of 39 studies involving 1,140 participants concluded that meditation has a positive impact on reducing anxiety. Interestingly, the authors also found that meditation is sometimes helpful in reducing anxiety that arises as a function of chronic pain, and cancer treatments.[10]

Advertising

As was true with memory, it does not require long periods of meditation for it to be effective in reducing anxiety. Just 20 minutes a day can prove helpful.

Many people are likely to see improvement in their anxiety levels by following a ten-minute guided meditation once in the morning and once again in the evening. Below is a short video to help you.

Final Thoughts

Consistently practicing short periods of meditation can result in numerous benefits. Yet, it takes very little effort and costs nothing but a brief bit of your time. It is easy to learn and can be done at home, in the office, or when away traveling.

Anyone wanting to improve their quality of life can readily take advantage of this tool. The only thing needed is to make a decision—start today.

You can easily do that by going to Ron Siegel’s website (he is a Professor at Harvard Medical school) and listening to one of his guided meditations. Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, is one of the foremost researchers on meditation. She has free guided meditations on her website that will get you started enjoying the benefits of making this a daily practice.

More About Meditation

Featured photo credit: Darius Bashar via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Forrest Talley

Forrest is a Clinical Psychologist who has been helping adults, teens and children for over 30 years.

6 Health Benefits of Meditation (Backed By Science) 14 Simple Ways To Cope With Your Job Stress How to Quickly Calm Your Mind and Refocus When You’re Stressed

Trending in Mental Wellness

1 How To Get Over Anxiety: 5 Professional Tips 2 6 Health Benefits of Meditation (Backed By Science) 3 How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly 4 How to Do Transcendental Meditation (Step-by-Step Guide) 5 How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on May 3, 2021

How To Get Over Anxiety: 5 Professional Tips

How To Get Over Anxiety: 5 Professional Tips

Anxiety is killing our mental energy. It is, after all, the leading mental health issue in our society today.  In 2017 alone, more than 284 million people experienced anxiety across the globe, making it the most prevalent mental health disorder globally.[1]

If you are asking the question, “how do I get over my anxiety?”, then this article is for you. I’ve put together a list of my top strategies to help you get over your anxiety. These are the same strategies that have worked for many of my clients over the years, and I think they can work for you too!

Anxiety is, in general terms, as uneasiness or nervousness about an undetermined outcome. Sometimes, this worry and uneasiness is quite excessive and goes from something that we can manage on our own to something for which we need professional help.  If your worry or apprehension includes panic attacks or compulsive behaviors, consider reaching out to a therapist or a doctor for more professional help.

I like to think of anxiety as information—a sign that something is off in your life. It could be a global pandemic, a challenge at work, instability in relationships, or the sign of a larger mental health issue.  Whatever it is, it’s good to think this through and be asking the questions that will help you uncover the parts of your life that could use some adjusting.

Again, consulting with a therapist or counselor, even just for a brief period of time, can help decipher some of these questions for you.  And if you want to give it a go on your own, well that takes us to the first of my five tips on how to get over anxiety.

Advertising

Here are 5 tips on how to get over anxiety and live a more fulfilling life.

1. The Mighty Journal

You will be amazed by the power of journaling—the path of self-discovery it can lead you down. The best part of journaling is that there is no right or wrong here. It is a private place where you can work through the stuff in your head and figure some things out.

There are lots of formats for journaling, and I have personally changed my own approach several times depending on what was going on and what I was looking for.  It could be that narrative of your day or bullets with highlights or thoughts of the day.

To make the most out of your journaling I would encourage you to push yourself and go beyond a recount of the day’s events. What you really want here is to get into your thought process and understand the feelings behind the thoughts. Timelines can also be a great way to gain some understanding of relationships and the different events in your life. Again, it is a matter of what works for you.

The pen truly is mightier than. . . the meds?!? My own little psych-mashup.

Advertising

2. Schedule Your Self-Care Time

What are the ways you treat yourself? Life is busy and when life demands increase, self-care is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside. But it is critical that you build in your “you time” because when stress levels increase, so will anxiety.

If self-care is not something that you are accustomed to thinking about, I listed some ideas for you to consider.  Keep in mind that if you schedule it with someone else, it might help with accountability.

Think about working smaller chunks of time into the workweek and then something a little more extensive on the weekend, like a hike, excursion, creative home project, or even the occasional weekend away.

Self-care ideas:[2]

  • Take your lunchtime away from your desk, and get outside for a walk or join a colleague for some casual chitchat.
  • Schedule a massage or trip to the spa/salon.
  • Watch a favorite movie or TV show, either on your own or with your favorite person/people.
  • Work out, inside or out—anything that gets your heart rate up.
  • Go on an evening or afternoon walk.
  • Tap into your creative outlet, break out that knitting, woodwork, artwork, or instrument.
  • Dance, at home with your kids, partner, or on your own.  Play your favorite tunes and do your thing!

You can also try these 40 Self Care Techniques To Rejuvenate And Restore Yourself.

Advertising

3. Listen to Your Music

Music speaks to our soul. It is a go-to for many of us when in need of a pick-me-up or just blowing off some steam. But sometimes, life gets busy, and we don’t incorporate it into our life the way we once did—finding ourselves in a music deficient rut, listening to the same boring stuff on the radio.

Let this be a reminder to explore the new music out there. Streaming services have revolutionized our access to music and have made it easier than ever before. Explore it and find your jam.

Additionally, music therapy is a growing form of therapy built on the research that it helps decrease pain, blood pressure, and—you guessed it—anxiety while also increasing mood, healing, and overall positivity.[3]

Medical Doctors are using it more and more in operating rooms and incorporating it into their practices. If you subscribe to Spotify or Apple Music, you can just type in “relaxing music” and you will be sure to find something that will do the trick, bringing calm and focus into your life.  In my research for this article, I came across some great ones., and they are now a part of my daily rotation.

4. The Five Senses Exercise

When we experience heightened anxiety, I think of it as the physical energy rising from our feet to our head like a thermometer. Sometimes, this energy can even bring us to a place where we feel disconnected from our bodies. The 5 senses exercise will help you reconnect yourself to your body and bring your anxiety levels down to a more manageable level.

Advertising

The 5 senses exercise is a mindfulness exercise where you connect your 5 senses to your present environment. This is a great way to ground yourself and bring your attention and your energy to the here and now.  What I love about this exercise is that it can be done anywhere and at any time. If you start to feel your anxiety creep up, this could be a good strategy to center yourself and possibly ward off a panic attack or prolonged anxiety.

The process is simple:

  1. Start by taking a few deep breathes, inhaling as you count to 3, and then exhaling as you count to 3.
  2. Next, identify 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can touch and feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
  3. Take it in, give yourself a few minutes.
  4. Repeat if needed, and carry on.

5. Mindset Matters

This last one is a big one. A lot of times, anxiety waxes and wanes with how we think about something. Be mindful of your negative self-talk, keeping it in check and working to incorporate perspective. If you know that you are headed into something challenging, prepare yourself for it mentally and allow yourself to be ok with the challenge. After all, the challenge helps us grow and develop.

Also, remember that life is full of choices—granted the options in front of us may be less than ideal, but remember that they are there.  Incorporating some of these above strategies could be one of the first choices you make to create change in your life and get a hold of the anxiety

A quick easy way to get some perspective is to acknowledge the things that you are grateful for (this is also a mindfulness practice).  The gratitude journal is one way to do this where you write down three to five things that you are grateful for every day. Try it out for a week or so and see how you feel. Of course, the more time you practice this, the more you will feel the benefits.

Summing It Up

Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time, working to identify the source of your anxiety will help you discover the best strategies for you. However, there are some definite best practices that you can incorporate into your life that are sure to minimize your anxiety and keep you living the active and fulfilling life you want.

More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Fernando @cferdo via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Our World in Data: Mental Health
[2] NCBI: Social Anxiety Disorder: Recognition, Assessment, and Treatment
[3] Harvard Health Publishing: How music can help you heal

Read Next