So we have been hearing a lot in the news and online about how beneficial meditation is and that it can positively impact almost every area of your life. It seems like meditation is the hot new thing that everyone is getting into, but is there concrete evidence that backs up the profound benefits of meditation?
Is it actually beneficial for everyone? What are the specific ways that it can actually improve your life? How can you possibly find the time to meditate when you are so busy?
The great news about meditating is that you don’t need a ton of time, a lot of structure, or a class environment to start practicing it and reaping the benefits of it. Some recent studies have shown that meditating for just 20 minutes a day is plenty enough time to start experiencing most of the benefits of meditation.
We are going to walk you through some of the concrete, tested benefits of meditation and the research that supports it.
Brain Health and Mood Stability
As you probably guessed, meditation has a plethora of benefits for the health of your brain and keeping your mood stable throughout the day. So in case your mood or your stress levels are a roller coaster throughout the day, this is for you.
1) Decreases Depression
Depression is a condition that afflicts millions of people every year. With in person interactions becoming less and less mandatory with social media, email, video conferencing, and remote work, rates of isolation, loneliness, and depression are higher than ever.
The good news is, multiple studies have shown meditation and mindfulness meditation decreases markers of stress and anxiety in everyone from high school students to individuals in senior living facilities.
2) Regulates Mood
Everyone experiences mood swings from time to time. With bad news, good news, exciting situations, and stresses at work we all go through mood fluctuations on a daily basis. Meditation helps you reach a level of mindfulness in which you become more resilient to feelings of stress and obligations throughout the day.
3) Reduces Anxiety Disorders
In fact, meditation is so effective at regulating and balancing your mood and overall demeanor, that it can actually have a positive effect on people who have anxiety disorders. There are several studies reviewed by Psycinfo and Pubmed that show definitive evidence in random studies where subjects saw significant drops in levels of their anxiety.
4) Reduces General Stress and Anxiety
This is one of the main reasons that people jump into a meditation practice in the first place. We all carry stress from work, finances, relationships, family, friends, etc. Even positive stress is still stress and anxiety, and that takes a toll on your body. A study from the University of Wisconsin indicated that those who practiced meditation regularly had noticeable reductions in grey matter, in parts of the brain that are associated with anxiety and stress.
5) Reduces Chances of Panic Attacks
Since meditation helps you manage everything from general stress to diagnosed anxiety disorders, it can also help you lower the risk of having a panic attack. In an overwhelming positive study by the American Journal of Psychiatry, 20 out of 22 patients with anxiety disorder noticed substantial drops in their anxiety and risk factors for a panic attack, after just 3 months of meditation.
6) Could Reduce the Amount of Sleep You Need
This is something that is really interesting; certain studies on meditation have revealed that periods of deep meditation may be an adequate substitute for sleep. A study done by the University of Kentucky composed a study and found that experienced meditators noticed significant focus and performance boosts in normal activities and responsibilities of daily living, even while under a sleep deficit.
Related article: Why Can't I Sleep?
7) Reduces Alcohol and Drug Abuse
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine did three studies that involved practicing Vipassana meditation with incarcerated individuals, and noted that there were significant drops in their need for alcohol and drugs.
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You may have already picked up on this, but there are plenty of mental performance boosts that you can take advantage of every day, by practicing meditation.
8) Meditation Increases Your Focus
A study done by the University of California found that they were able to increase the focus of their students by using meditation. They also noted performance boosts when it came to repetitive or dull tasks.Another study showed that when students practiced meditating for just 20 minutes per day, they were able to perform multiple times better on cognitive skills assessments, than classmates in the control group who were not meditating.
9) Improves Information Processing
Did you know that meditation can help you process information faster and improve your decision making capacity? Another study out of UCLA’s labs found that people who meditate extensively have larger quantities of gyrification of their cortex, which is linked to your brain’s ability to process information.
10) Improves Decision Making
That same study that UCLA did with how meditation affects your brain’s ability to process information faster also indicated that meditation aids the same part of the cortex that improves your ability to make decisions.
11) Increases Your Emotional Intelligence and Mental Strength
In his book, Dr. Ron Alexander points out that meditation helps you harness your mind’s true strength and makes you more aware of yourself and the circumstances or people around you.
12) Meditation Makes You More Resilient to Pain
Meditation can even help you with pain management. The University of Montreal took a combination of 13 zen masters and 13 non-meditation practicing individuals and exposed them to the same amount of pain/discomfort, via controlled heat exposure. They monitored both groups brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, to note their responses to the pain. Though the fMRI indicated that both groups experienced the same amount of pain, the brains of the zen masters actually registered less pain than they were experiencing.
13) Meditation As a Painkiller
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center composed a study in which they took 15 healthy individuals and exposed them to meditation for the first time. Once again these test subjects were exposed to the same amount of heat discomfort both before and after this test. They only attended four 20 minute sessions. Before they took any of the meditation sessions they noted their brain’s reaction using an MRI, and did the same after the meditation sessions.
The researchers noted a 40% drop in the feeling of pain intensity, and a 57% drop in the discomfort actually caused by the pain. Side note, pain-relieving drugs like morphine only reduce pain by about 25%.
14) Treatment for ADHD
Recent studies have been done with adults with ADHD, where they have undergone mindfulness based cognitive therapy. What they found out after going through MBCT was that each of the subjects noticed reduced symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
15) Meditation Increases Focus in States of Distraction or Chaos
This goes hand in hand with the previous study that showed the ability of meditation to reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness with adults that have ADHD. A study from Emory University in Atlanta showed that individuals with more meditation experience had more brain connectivity in the areas of the brain that correlate with attention and attention span. These same areas of the brain may also be related with what it takes for us to disengage from distractions.
16) Improves Your Memory
Certain studies have shown that practicing meditation regularly in the long term can help improve grey matter in the areas of the brain that are credited to learning, information retention, and memory.
17) Improves Learning
Since meditation is credited with improving your memory, tests have also shown that meditation can help accelerate your rate of learning and retaining new skills and new information.
18) Meditation Makes You More Self Aware
Meditation has been shown to improve self awareness, the environment that you are in, and the people around you.
19) Prevents You from Multitasking
Some people cite multitasking as a skill that they possess for being able to juggle a lot of responsibilities or tasks at the same time. Multitasking can also prevent you from getting anything completely done or done well, because the level of distractions causes deterioration of your work. Multitasking is not an actual skill, and it becomes a huge source of stress. When your brain has to switch gears back and forth and all around from task to task, you can expend all of your mental points pretty quickly.
Research conducted by both the University of Arizona and the University of Washington showed that HR personnel saw marked improvements in their stress level management in using meditation. They were tested by being given a multitude of stressful tasks both before and after 8 weeks of meditation training. After the 8 weeks of meditation and mindfulness training were over, researchers saw that the same HR personnel experienced less overall stress, had better memory retention for the previous tasks and assignments that they had completed, and they also switched between tasks less often than they did before the mindfulness training.
20) Meditation Helps Our Brain Work Well with Limited Resources
When the brain is presented with a sequence of visuals or information that are shown or listed one after another, we have the tendency to remember the first piece of information best, and tend to lose the second one. This is commonly known as attentional blink.
In a study done by the University of California, individuals were exposed to a sequence of random letters that popped up on a computer screen, in rapid succession. They were then asked to type in as many of the letters that they could remember from the sequence.
The researchers found that subjects that had undergone 3 months of intense meditation prior to the test showed better control over their attention span and ability to allocate their brain towards memorizing items from the sequence.
21) Enhances Creativity
Leiden University in the Netherlands actually found that mindfulness training and meditation improved creativity in the minds of individuals. Participants that kept up with some sort of mindfulness practice all performed better than individuals that did not, when asked to come up with a list of new ideas.
As you can see, meditation is an excellent practice and activity for improving your mental health. It also carries an array of benefits for your physical health as well.
22) Lowers Risk of CVD
More people die of heart disease than any other disease or health condition, worldwide. An interesting study was published in 2012 that involved a 5 year long process of studying 200 individuals that were high-risk for some sort of negative or chronic health condition. They were separated into two groups in which one took a class on health education that emphasized eating a healthier diet and exercising regularly, and the other group took a class on practicing transcendental meditation.
Over that 5 years, the transcendental meditation group saw a 48% drop in their overall risk for cardiovascular disease.
23) Lowers Risk of Stroke
The same studies that were noted in Time Magazine indicated that transcendental meditation significantly lowered the risk factors that are associated with having a stroke.
24) Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Trials and medical research has shown that zen meditation has been proven to reduce high blood pressure. Another experiment showed that when high blood pressure patients practiced meditation for just 3 months, that 66% of them noticeably lowered their blood pressure and no longer needed to take blood pressure medication. They were able to relax more while meditating which increased the body’s nitric oxide production, which in turn opens up your blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
25) Decreases Inflammation
A study that was conducted and recorded in both France and Spain showed that mindfulness training and meditation has effects on your body at the molecular level, which can reduce levels of genes that are known to cause inflammation. This also means that people who meditate will experience faster recovery times from physically stressful situations.
26) Meditation Helps with Asthma, Arthritis, and Bowel Inflammation
Neuroscientists from the University of Wisconsin conducted research that included two groups of people that were exposed to two different kinds of stress control methods. One of them went through mindfulness training and the other who underwent health education, exercise, and music therapy. They ended up finding that mindfulness practice and exercises were more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than even a proper diet and regular exercise.
27) Can Reduce the Effects of PMS and Menopause
This is something that the ladies will be happy to hear. This is a conclusion that has been drawn from 20 random, controlled studies in which women concluded that meditation and mindfulness lessened the negative side effects of PMS and menopause.
28) Reduces the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Recent research developments have shown that just 30 minutes of meditation per day not only reduces your overall sense of loneliness, but it also stimulates your brain in ways that reduces the risks of Alzheimer’s.
29) Meditation Can Lower Your Heart Rate and Improve Respiration
Along with meditation’s ability to dramatically reduce your overall stress, it can lower your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular respiration.
30) Meditation Can Increase Your Lifespan
With all the positive evidence that we have about meditation’s ability to improve your physical and mental health, it is really no wonder at all how it has the ability to increase your lifespan. Telomeres are a part of all of our cells that affect how are cells age over time. Though the data is not yet conclusive, it seems that there is data that suggests that meditation can help preserve your telomeres and slow the effects of aging.
The Benefits of Meditation for Your Relationships
Did you know that meditation has positive benefits for your relationships? Sure, in the mental and physical health benefits of this article you can see how some of the benefits of meditation can indirectly relate to benefiting your relationships. Let’s talk about how some other forms of meditation can actually directly benefit your relationships.
In a division of meditation called loving-kindness meditation, individuals focus on developing a sense of loving and caring toward everyone and everything. It’s mostly focused on building empathy and a kind of universal positivity that can be transferred and used in just about any social situation. Research done by Emory University has shown that loving-kindness meditation can give you a better sense of reading and understanding people and their facial expressions. This also helps you develop a positive sense of self, which is extremely valuable for building self confidence and preventing sadness, isolation, and depression.
Improves the Feeling of Connectedness to Others
Loving-kindness meditation gives you a better sense of empathy and connectedness to other people, which is great for building new relationships and getting yourself into the shoes of others.
In one study, test subjects went through nine weeks of what is known as compassion cultivation training. At the end of the nine week training period, individuals felt and expressed more compassion toward others, felt more compassion from others, and even had elevated levels of compassion for themselves.
Reduces Feelings of Social Isolation
The American Psychological Association conducted a study which found that subjects who did just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation daily experienced an increase in feelings of positivity and overall connection to other people around them. This kind of meditation can help negative or introverted individuals find a better connection with other people.
Reduces the Effects of Emotional Eating
Did you know that meditation can reduce the negative effects of emotional eating? Transcendental meditation is a great way to manage emotional eating which can help people prevent from becoming overweight or obese.
Benefits of Meditation for Kids
Meditation isn’t just for adults either, it has tons of benefits for kids as well. Mindfulness training with kids has shown a slew of incredible benefits that include: a
- Reduction in in symptoms of depression
- Decrease in overall stress
- Decrease in the number of conflicts with same age individuals
- Reduced drug, alcohol, and substance abuse
- Better levels of self care
- Higher levels of optimism, joy, and happiness
- Better self-esteem
- Better social skills
- Better sleep quality
- Better self awareness
- Improvements in academic performance.
Students may actually have an easier time of tapping into mindfulness or a meditative state because they don’t yet have the stresses and obligations of adulthood.
Overall, meditation appears to have an immense amount of health benefits of all sorts that range from your physical health to your mental health, overall well-being, and relational health as well. Though there are some inconclusive benefits of meditation that have not yet been totally affirmed by recent studies, it appear that we are well on our way to unveiling even more studies and data that will link us to further benefits of extensive, regular meditation.
One of the greatest aspects by far of practicing meditation and mindfulness is that it is accessible to literally anyone who wants to try it, and helps kids, seniors, and everyone in between.
If you are just getting into meditation for the first time, guided meditation may be the best way to get started. Many of the free and paid apps that you can find on the Android and iPhone markets will get you started with mindful breathing, and move you on from there. Most of them have introductory programs for people who are just getting started.
There are a ton of great books on the market for getting started with meditation. Grab a book on meditation for beginners to give you an overview and a guided process for how to get into starting your own meditation practice, take a seat on a cushion and get started.
There are a lot of ways that you can choose to practice or pursue meditation or mindfulness, and a lot of tools to help you do it, but at the end of the day it can be an excellent free method for dramatically improving your health and quality of life. So take a seat in your favorite meditation chair and give it a try!