7 Remarkable Health Benefits of Meditation
I love that meditation is increasingly going mainstream. News pundits, celebrities, politicians, CEO’s and all of their mothers claim to be doing it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that everyone seems to be jumping on the meditation train.
And before that train leaves the station, you should probably jump on as well. Why? Because for once, they’re all right!
You may have heard that meditation can relax you, reduce stress and de-clutter your mind. But do you know all the positive effects that meditation has on the body?
Well, I don’t know them all either…because let’s be honest, I’m sure they number in the thousands. But, I do know of seven pretty cool health benefits that might make you want to close your eyes and start meditating before even finishing this post.
So without further ado, meditation can…
1. Boost immune function
For those of us with an immune system that one day decided to go on the fritz, this is benefit numero uno. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers monitored immunity biomarkers in participants who took part in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The result? Improvements in general well-being, a drop in average levels of c-reactive protein (a marker associated with inflammation and disease) and an increase in protective natural killer cell activity. In another study at Ohio State University, a month of relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in the elderly, giving them a greater resistance to tumors and viruses.
2. Reduce inflammation
By now, I’m sure you all know that inflammation is bad. Inflammation has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, metabolic disease, cancer and various skin diseases such as psoriasis. In a recent study by researchers in Spain, France and the United States, results showed that meditation can reduce the expression of genes involved in inflammatory processes. “Mindfulness meditation practice had the effect of dialing down the volume knob for a set of genes thought to be involved in inflammation” said Jill Sakai of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes.
3. Improve fertility
There may be scientific proof to support “procreation vacations” after all! A study at the University of Western Australia found that women are more likely to conceive during periods when they are relaxed rather than stressed. Similarly, researchers at Ohio State University found that women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase (a stress marker) had a 29% lower chance of becoming pregnant each month, compared to women with the lowest levels. And if you still need more evidence, a recent clinical study by researchers at the hospitals associated with Harvard Medical School and published in the prestigious journal Fertility and Sterility demonstrated that women who were undergoing IVF treatment who also participated in a meditation program had significantly higher pregnancy rates than women who did not participate in the meditation program.
4. Regulate blood pressure
Most of us know that chronically high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke. But did you know meditation may provide benefits on par with pharmaceutical drugs? A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes showed that African-Americans with heart disease who practiced Transcendental Meditation regularly were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke or die compared with African-Americans who attended a health education class over more than five years. Another study at Harvard Medical School found meditation naturally lowered blood pressure by reducing the body’s stress response – nearly equal to that achieved using blood pressure drugs.
6. Balance emotions
We all have those days when we just don’t feel like ourselves. A little emotionally “off” perhaps. Well, a recent study at UCSF found that school teachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed, while also more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings. Similarly, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that participating in an 8-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating. Results showed that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.
7. Improve brain function
If you’ve ever felt a little foggy or forgetful, meditation may be the boost you need. A group of Harvard neuroscientists have reported that brain structures change after only eight weeks of meditation practice. MRI scans showed that those who practiced mindfulness increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum. These regions are important as they’re involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective. Another study at UCLA found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate.
If meditation just hasn’t been “your thing,” I’m hoping these remarkable (and scientifically proven!) health benefits are enough to help jumpstart your practice today. Meditation is also a great tool for getting better sleep and it’s part of my daily nighttime sleep ritual.
What motivated your meditation practice? Let me know in the comments below!
Extra Resource: Headspace App (the same guided meditation app I use!)
Extra Resource: Relax Melodies App (for some zen sounds)