6 Compelling Benefits of Meditation, According to Science
Don’t dismiss this practice until you consider these medical reasons for giving meditation a chance
What are the benefits of meditation?
Have you answered the call to meditate yet? Proponents of the practice point out its bevy of perks, including lowering blood pressure, boosting mood, and decreasing pain. “What meditation is doing is allowing yourself space and time to tune into your parasympathetic nervous system, which tones down or switches off the sympathetic “fight or flight” system, which is so commonly in overdrive within each of us on a daily basis,” says Lana Butner, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist with Tru Whole Care in New York City. To start, she recommends committing to three minutes each in the morning and evening to meditate. Use an app like Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, or INSCAPE, suggests Butler.
Meditation might be a more powerful painkiller than morphine
Meditation may be able to help decrease your perception of pain, says Butler, prompting a “mind over matter” response to what’s irking you. In a 2016 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, a specific technique called mindfulness meditation (nonjudgmental awareness to events) helped significantly reduce pain intensity and “unpleasantness” when participants were administered a painful heat stimuli and given an IV of either an opioid drug or placebo saline.
An “om” a day could keep your blood pressure at bay
If you have high blood pressure, following a low-sodium diet and taking medication as prescribed is critical. Add “meditate” to your treatment plan, too. Research in the Journal of Human Hypertension in 2019 found that patients with high blood pressure who took part in an 8-week mindfulness training program were able to lower both their levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. If you want to try adding meditation to your routine for this potential benefit, opt for one of these 10 ways to sneak meditation into your everyday life.
It might make you smarter
Stay sharp for life: A 2018 study in Scientific Reports found that just 40 minutes of meditation (specifically “mindful breath awareness meditation) helped improve cognitive performance by improving attention networks in the brain. These benefits may keep your brain young, too, possibly because meditation reduces stress. “It seems that individuals with chronically elevated stress are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment as they age, which could greatly impact quality of life,” says Kalea Wattles, ND, a functional medicine physician with Vida Integrated Health in Bellvue, WA. “Studies are showing changes to the actual structure of the brain induced by meditation, as well as enhanced brain function associated with stress reduction,” she adds.
Meditating could decrease risk of depression
A meditative practice can give you a mood lift. “Meditation, particularly mindfulness-based practices, can be helpful for anxiety and depression,” says Wattles. “In fact, the practice has been shown to be comparable to pharmaceutical antidepressants in the treatment of mild depression in the primary care setting,” she says. Need something quick and easy to boost your mood? Here are 10 ideas.
You’ll actually relax
Mindfulness meditation can help quiet emotional turbulence and anxiety, says Marianela Medrano, PhD, owner at Palabra Counseling & Training Center in Stamford, CT. “When you’re breathing, more oxygen goes to the brain, and when your brain is well-fed with oxygen you think better. They report the ability of being more in control of themselves,” she explains.
Meditation makes you happy
The feel-good vibes last long after the session itself. “In the long-term, meditation could actually shift brain activity towards happiness and contentment. There is evidence that experienced meditators have less activation in brain regions associated with mind wandering,” says Wattles. As a result, they’re more able to stay in the moment, something that improves life satisfaction. Now that you’re on board with meditation, don’t fall for these meditation mistakes that secretly stress you out.
- Lana Butner, naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist with Tru Whole Care in New York City
- The Journal of Neuroscience: “Mindfulness-Mediation-Based Pain Relief is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids.”
- Journal of Human Hypertension: “Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation in Reducing Blood Pressure and Stress in Patients With Arterial Hypertension.”
- Scientific Reports: “Mindful breath awareness meditation facilitates efficiency gains in brain networks: A steady-state visually evoked potentials study.”
- Kalea Wattles, ND, a functional medicine physician with Vida Integrated Health in Bellvue, WA
- JAMA Internal Medicine: “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”
- Marianela Medrano, PhD., owner at Palabra Counseling & Training Center in Stamford, CT
- Reviews in the Neurosciences: “Mindfulness and Meditation: Treating Cognitive Impairment and Reducing Stress in Dementia.”