If stress or anxiety affects your daily life, spending just a few minutes meditating could help restore your inner balance. Meditation is a practice that redirects thoughts and trains the mind to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. Through calming breathing techniques, meditation can help reduce stress, improve concentration, and deepen your self-awareness.
As more people discover its health benefits, the practice has become more popular. Today, 200 to 500 million people meditate across the globe, and over 14% of Americans report having tried meditation at least once.
Many people use the practice to improve their mood, self-discipline, sleep patterns, and more. Alongside more traditional forms of care, it can also help manage conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
This article will cover everything you need to know about this practice, including the top 10 science-based benefits of meditation.
Meditation is a practice that goes back thousands of years. In ancient Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist traditions, the technique was used to expand the mind and develop a deeper spiritual understanding of life.
Today, meditation is more commonly used to relax the body and mind. Physicians and therapists have supported the form of mind-body medicine to manage stress and relieve the symptoms of various conditions.
There are many different styles of meditation, but most involve the same technique. First, you find a quiet location and settle into a comfortable posture, either sitting or lying down. Then, you focus your attention on something specific, like a particular phrase or the sound of your breathing. During meditation, you should keep a completely clear mind, letting go of your thoughts or other distractions.
When the body is exposed to a source of stress, it goes into a “fight or flight” response. Meditating produces the opposite physical reaction — acting on the sympathetic nervous system to relax breathing, pulse rate, and blood pressure. When you practice meditation regularly, you can train the body to achieve this state of relaxation to combat stress.
For more information on meditation, check out our article 'What is Meditation'.
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
The benefits of meditation go far beyond fighting stress. Meditation can give you a deep sense of internal calm, improving your mental and physical health. And those benefits don’t end when your session is over. When practiced regularly, meditation can help you maintain a sense of balance throughout the day and manage the symptoms of certain medical conditions.
Here are the top 10 science-backed benefits of mindfulness meditation.
1. Reduce Stress
One of the primary reasons people turn to meditation is to reduce stress. Studies investigating the benefits of meditation found that the practice can decrease cortisol levels, the stress hormone.
A clinical review found evidence of improved anxiety after several weeks of regular meditation. Another study found that mindfulness meditation can reduce the inflammatory response caused by stress. Other research shows that meditation can improve the symptoms of conditions linked to stress, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and fibromyalgia.
2. Control Anxiety
In addition to reducing stress levels, meditation can help control anxiety. One study found that practicing meditation over eight weeks helped reduce anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder. Another study found that an eight-week meditation program led to noticeable improvements in depression, anxiety, and pain over a year.
3. Promote Emotional Health
When you meditate, your serotonin levels increase, acting as a natural antidepressant to improve your mental health. A review of mindful meditation and its effects on depression found that meditation was just as effective as traditional forms of treatment. Another review found that people receiving meditation therapies experienced fewer symptoms of depression compared to the control group.
What’s more, research shows that meditation exercises can lead to a generally more positive outlook on life. One study found that people who completed a meditation exercise experienced fewer negative thoughts when shown negative images.
4. Improve Focus
Practicing regular meditation, even for just a few minutes a day, has been shown to improve focus, attention span, and executive functioning.
One study found that people who listened to a meditation tape demonstrated improved attention and accuracy. A similar study showed that those who regularly practice meditation performed better on a visual task and had a greater attention span.
5. Prevent Age-Related Memory Loss
While more research is needed to explore the issue, early studies found evidence that meditation can fight age-related memory loss and improve mental function in older people.
A UCLA study found that people who had been meditating for an average of 20 years had better-preserved brains as they aged. While all participants lost some brain functioning over the years, participants who meditated had more gray matter volume throughout their brains.
6. Reduce Pain
While meditators and non-meditators may experience the same causes of pain, research suggests that meditation can help people cope with pain and even change how they experience it.
One review of 38 studies shows that mindfulness meditation reduced pain and improved the quality of life in people with chronic pain. Another analysis showed that meditation was associated with decreased pain.
7. Maintain Heart Health
While still in its early stages, some research suggests that long-term meditation may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Heart Association data, meditation can help with blood pressure, cholesterol level, and overall cardiovascular health. It can also help people quit smoking, improving their heart health.
8. Fight Addiction
Meditation can improve mental discipline and self-control, which may help people suffering from addiction break their dependencies.
One study showed that practicing transcendental meditation helped people in treatment for alcohol use disorder reduce alcohol cravings and alcohol use after three months. Another review found that mindfulness meditation helped people reduce binge eating.
9. Improve Sleep
Practicing meditation may help you control or redirect your thoughts and relax your body and release tension. This puts you in a more peaceful state where you’re more likely to fall asleep.
One study on people with chronic insomnia found that those who meditated had less severe insomnia and could stay asleep longer.
To learn more about how you can improve sleep quality, talk to a practitioner with Sofia Health.
10. Lower Blood Pressure
Meditation may help improve physical health by lowering blood pressure and reducing strain on the heart.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies found that meditation helped reduce blood pressure overall. The effect was even more pronounced among older volunteers or those who already had high blood pressure before the study. Another review concluded that several different types of meditation could improve blood pressure.
Want to learn to meditate? Check out our article 'How to Meditate' here.
What Meditation Health Benefits Can Do For You
Whether you’re seeking relief from specific symptoms or an overall boost to your mental well-being, anyone can enjoy the health benefits of meditation. With just a few minutes of relaxation and mindful breathing each day, you can reap the rewards for your health.
However, practices like meditation aren’t a replacement for professional care. You can use meditation alongside other forms of treatment to get the best results.
Ready to find relief from physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health concerns? Sofia Health is a resource that can guide you towards personalized care from some of the top health and wellness providers. Find a practitioner and schedule a session today.
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