Meditation is the art of training your mind to become peaceful. Practiced for at least 5,000 years, it is closely associated with Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions. In the 1970s, Westerners first began studying the health benefits of meditation as a secular practice. Nowadays, everyone from CEOs to school children use meditation for a healthier body and mind.
According to spiritual leader Ravi Shankar, “If you want to be happy and healthy, you’ve got to be meditating.”1 Need more specific reasons to meditate? Here are 10 science-based ways meditation can help you lead a healthier life.
1. Feel happier
True happiness is something all humans want. Many research studies have been conducted to back up claims that meditation increases happiness. In a recent study, employees of the Compuware Corporation volunteered to participate in “loving-kindness” meditation at least five days per week. This kind of meditation focuses on directing positive feelings and love towards yourself and the world. Participants who meditated, as opposed to those in a control group, were found to have less depressive symptoms and more positive emotions, especially in their interactions with others.2
2. Feel less stressed
We live in a stressful world. All around us, people, advertisements, and electronics are clamoring for our attention. We are constantly busy, because we fill our lives with work, family, and obligations. Stress relief was one of the first health benefits of meditation studied by Westerners. Researchers continue to explore this amazing field.
For example, a study from Carnegie Mellon University shows that even short periods of meditation can release stress. The three-day study asked participants to engage in mindfulness meditation, including breathing exercises, for 25 minutes each day. They were then asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks. As compared to a control group, the group who participated in meditation had less cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. Meditation led to less cortisol hormone in the test subjects, which in turn led to less stress.3
3. Helps to Lose or Maintain Weight
Weight is an issue many people struggle with. Stopping weight gain without diet and exercise seems too good to be true, but meditation has been proven to help in this area. It makes sense that since meditation lessens stress, it can also lessen stress eating. In a small-scale study published by the Journal of Obesity, overweight and obese women
were trained in “mindful eating” and practiced meditation for half an hour each day. They also took part in an intense seven-hour meditation retreat. The women in the control group continued to gain weight, while those who practiced meditation did not.4
If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, a healthy lifestyle combined with meditation practice could be the answer.
4. Lessen anxiety and depression
The stress-reducing effects of meditation also lead to less anxiety and depression. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety and depression, making it the most common mental illness in this country.5 Research suggests that if more people began meditating, that number could be a lot less. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that mindful meditation has nearly the same effect on patients with minor anxiety and depression as taking antidepressants.6
5. Help your concentration and memory
Who wouldn’t want to increase their memory and concentration? Think of all the things you could do: study better, read more books, be a better driver, or even remember your grocery list without writing it down.
Meditation can help you achieve better concentration by improving the source – your brain. In a study published by Psychological Science, researchers found that mindfulness training improved GRE scores and led to less mind-wandering by participants.7 Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital also found that meditation increased memory. Their study measured the density of gray matter in the brain using magnetic resonance (MR) images. These images showed an increase in gray matter located in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain most associated with memory. According to scientists, a higher density of gray matter in the hippocampus can mean a better memory. These changes in the brain took place after a meditation program of only eight weeks.8
6. Help your immune system
Getting sick is the worst! No one likes having a cold or the flu. Meditation may make you less likely to get sick by improving your immune system, the network of cells that protects your body from disease. Per a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, test subjects who meditated were 25 percent less likely to get sick than those who did not meditate.9
7. Keep your brain young
You’re only as old as you feel – or as old as your brain feels. Although people are living longer than ever before, our brains start deteriorating as early as the mid-20s.10 Meditation has been found to lessen deterioration in the brain. In a study published by Frontiers in Psychology, gray matter deterioration in the brain was studied on people who had practiced meditation throughout their lifetimes, and those who had not. Researchers found people who meditated had less deterioration in their brain’s gray matter, leading to greater brain health.11
8. Feel less pain
Chronic pain is a serious problem that can impact all aspects of your life. Luckily, meditation has been found to help control pain. A 2016 study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindfulness meditation can help control pain without the use of the brain’s naturally occurring opiates.12 For treating chronic pain, the NCCIH recommends using meditation in combination with pain medication.
9. Help you sleep
Sleep is vital to physical and mental health, and sleep disturbances can be a big problem for older adults. It is estimated that 50 percent of adults ages 55 and older have some form of sleep problem. A study conducted by the University of Southern California concluded that mindfulness meditation can help cure moderate sleep disturbances for older adults, including problems getting to sleep and staying asleep.13
10. To be more compassionate
Meditation devotees report feeling more connected with the universe and with others around them. This feeling has scientific backing – researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard University found that people who had taken part in an eight-week meditation course were kinder than those who did not. The experiment gauged whether participants would help an actor who was on crutches. Only 15 percent of people who did not do the meditation course helped, but a whopping 50 percent of meditation students intervened.14
Apps to Help You Meditate
You can even meditate using your phone or tablet! Meditation apps help to guide and organize your meditation routine, making it easier than ever. Here are three you might want try:
1. Buddhify: Buddhify is an app that features guided meditation exercises to do throughout your day, from morning to night.
2. Calm: Using the Calm app can help beginning meditators get started with a seven-day program of guided and unguided sessions, including calming scenes from nature.
3. Headspace: If you’re short on time for meditating, the Headspace app can help with quick, 10-minute sessions for each day.
As you can see, meditation can do amazing things for your body and mind. Calming and quieting your mind through meditation can make you mentally and physically healthier. It can also help you enjoy life. You have nothing to lose – so sit down and meditate!
Keep reading: How to Get More Energy While Sitting Down (It Works!)
2 Fredrickson, Barbara L. et al. “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources.”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95.5 (2008): 1045-1062. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
3 Rea, Shilo. “Press Release: Only 25 Minutes Of Mindfulness Meditation Alleviates Stress, According To Carnegie Mellon Researchers-CMU News – Carnegie Mellon University”. Cmu.edu. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
4 Daubenmier, Jennifer et al. “Mindfulness Intervention For Stress Eating To Reduce Cortisol And Abdominal Fat Among Overweight And Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study”. Journal of Obesity 2011 (2011): 1-13. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
5 “Facts & Statistics | Anxiety And Depression Association Of America, ADAA”. Adaa.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
6 “Meditation For Anxiety And Depression? – 01/06/2014”. Hopkinsmedicine.org. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
7 Mrazek, M. D. et al. “Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity And GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering”. Psychological Science 24.5 (2013): 776-781. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
8 McGreevey, Sue. “Eight Weeks To A Better Brain”. Harvard Gazette. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
9 Burgess, Ken. “Can Meditation Help Keep You From Getting Sick? This Study Says Yes | Mindfulness Hamilton”. Mindfulnesshamilton.ca. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
10 Luders E, Cherbuin N, Kurth F. Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551.
11 Luders E, Cherbuin N, Kurth F. Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551.
12 Meditation: In Depth | NCCIH. NCCIH. 2016. Accessed January 20, 2017.
13 Black D, O’Reilly G, Olmstead R, Breen E, Irwin M. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(4):494. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081.
14 Can Meditation Make You a More Compassionate Person? – College of Science. College of Science. 2016. Accessed January 20, 2017.