If you find yourself frequently feeling stressed, anxious, or having trouble sleeping, it may help to meditate daily. Meditation is something that takes time and practice to get good at, but luckily you don't need to be perfect to benefit from it!
For those of you that like research, there are plenty of scientific studies backing up the positive effects meditation can have on your health. Don't know if meditation is your thing? Keep reading to understand how it can better your wellbeing.
What is Meditation?
Meditation has a long history, with its roots in ancient India. It was originally developed as a set of techniques to help people connect with their inner selves and achieve an altered state of consciousness. In recent years, though, it has become increasingly popular in western countries as well. Meditation comprises different practices and techniques, such as concentration, contemplation, breath manipulation , visualization,, the use of sound (e.g., mantra or repeating words/sounds), and intentional movement (e.g., yoga tai chi). Each technique can access different senses and emotions. (1)
Meditation is a cheap and low-risk activity that people of all ages can do with some patience and guidance. If you're new to meditation and not sure where to start, there are plenty of options for finding instruction, like meditation apps (e.g., Calm, Headspace, Breethe), websites, or online videos.
7 Health Benefits of Meditation
Promotes Better Sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, doing meditation exercises every day may help. A study found that mindfulness meditation, which includes breathing exercises and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, might improve sleep for people who have trouble sleeping. This could include things like the quality of your sleep, how long you sleep, and how long it takes you to fall asleep. (2)
Research has also shown that individuals who have meditated for more than ten years tend to have faster eye movement and spend more time in the slow-wave sleep phase. This means that these individuals sleep more deeply and enjoy more restorative sleep. (3)
2. Reduce Stress and Anxiety
One of the reasons people choose to meditate is to feel less stressed and anxious. Some research shows that it can help, but we don't know for sure yet. For example, in one study, people who were very stressed or had chronic anxiety felt better after they meditated. Their anxiety levels improved from the 80th percentile to the 53rd percentile. (4)
A small study found that meditation not only helped people feel less stressed, but also improved their mood and reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (5)
3. Improves symptoms of depression
A study conducted in 2019 over the course of six weeks showed that students who meditated every day had fewer depression symptoms than those in a control group who did not meditate. This was, however, only true for participants who kept up the habit after the intervention ended. (6)
4. Relieves pain
Some early research shows that meditation may help people who have chronic pain. We need more research to be sure, but it seems that meditation may help by making people more aware, helping them focus their minds elsewhere, and teaching them how to better deal with pain. (7) More recent research suggests that meditation may help people who have pain and other symptoms related to conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome. (8)
5. Boosts memory and protects against cognitive decline
If you're looking for a way to improve your memory, meditation may be the answer. After an eight-week trial involving individuals with memory issues, it was found that those who practiced meditation had significantly improved memories. Furthermore, they also had improved scores on the Trail-Making Test B assessment, which is used as a screening tool for dementia. The trial additionally identified a substantial increase in cerebral blood flow to several parts of the brain responsible for memory—such as the prefrontal and superior frontal cortices—after participants meditated regularly. (9)
Did you know that if you meditate regularly, it might actually change the structure of your brain? As we age, our cortical thickness naturally decreases, which can then impact memory and how well we're able to think abstractly. But one study found that people who frequently engage in meditation have increased cortical thickness- meaning their brains haven't aged as much. (10)
6. Sharpens focus and concentration
If you find it difficult to focus on one thing at a time, meditation may help sharpen your attention and focus. Even just 10 minutes of meditation can have an immediate positive impact. In fact, four days of practice is all it takes to see improvements in concentration and focus – even for people who have never meditated before. Studies suggest that regular meditation can also enhance working memory, executive function and sustained attention over the long term. (11)
7. Supports cardiovascular health
An analysis of 19 other studies found that meditation might help lower blood pressure. Meditation has also been linked to preventing heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels. (12)
Several studies have shown that meditation can help improve cardiovascular health. For example, meditation has been shown to lower heart rate and increase heart rate variability. In one study, people who meditated for just five minutes per day for ten days saw improvements in heart rate variability. (14)
The bottom line
Setting aside a few minutes each day to meditate can have profound effects on your physical and mental wellbeing. Meditation has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, while promoting better sleep, stronger cognition, and improved heart health. And it doesn't matter if you're new to meditation or have been practicing for years—everyone can reap the benefits of this simple yet powerful wellness tool!
Sharma H. Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu. 2015 Jul-Sep;36(3):233-7. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.182756. PMID: 27313408; PMCID: PMC4895748.
Gong H, Ni CX, Liu YZ, Zhang Y, Su WJ, Lian YJ, Peng W, Jiang CL. Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Psychosom Res. 2016 Oct;89:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2016.07.016. Epub 2016 Jul 26. PMID: 27663102.
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