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19 Ways Meditation Takes Your Life to the Next Level

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There’s a growing list of celebrities and successful executives who incorporate meditation into their daily routine not because it’s the latest fad, but because of the mounting evidence supporting its benefits for your body and mind. They translate to better performance across all areas of life, from your relationships to your parenting and your job. No matter your goals in life, meditation can help you clear your mind, manage stress and hone your focus so you can achieve them.

Various forms of meditation have been developed and practiced by people in virtually every religion around the world since ancient times. There are many schools of practice, from Khemetic Yoga of Ancient Egypt to Taoism in China and Zen Buddhism in Japan. However, meditation is as simple as bringing your awareness inside you as you sit still and breathe. It’s the act—or art—of finding stillness within you amidst the mental chaos involved in daily life. When you make this a ritual by practicing meditation for as little as 10 minutes a day, you experience amazing transformations at the cellular level of your body. Here are 19 impressive but proven ways meditation enhances your health:

1. Reduces Stress

A foundational skill required to achieve what you desire in life is the ability to persist in spite of stress. To push onward toward the attainment of goals and weather new challenges and changes, stress management is instrumental. Numerous scientific studies involving thousands of participants have measured the impressive effects of meditation on stress levels [1]. Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, inflammation and levels of the stress hormone cortisone, which is responsible for the body’s “fight-or-flight” response. Chronically high cortisone levels are associated with mood disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as health problems like adrenal fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome. By lowering stress levels, meditation can be helpful in preventing and combating a host of stress-related health and mental health issues.

Meditation is shown to be an effective stress management tool for professionals dealing with job-related stress. In an 8-week study on nurses, meditation lowered short-term stress at the workplace, increased job satisfaction and promoted self-compassion [2].

2. Improves Symptoms of Anxiety

Chronically high stress levels raise your risk for developing an anxiety disorder, which could range from social anxiety disorder to generalized anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). in a 2-month study on people diagnosed with anxiety disorders, daily meditation was shown to lower symptoms and panic attacks in all participants [3]. In order to keep anxiety under control, your nervous system needs to come out of “fight or flight” mode. Meditation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the nervous system and helps the body and mind come to a peaceful state of rest. At the same time, meditation sharpens your focus so you can become solution-oriented as you let go of your feelings of worry. Whereas anti-anxiety drugs tend to have side effects, meditation has only positive effects, and can be used to cope with anxiety as much as needed when symptoms appear.

3. Lengthens Your Attention Span

Your attention span is like a muscle you can grow with practice. Meditation is shown to boost the focus and endurance of your attention, helping your concentration on important tasks longer. In one study, 8 weeks of meditation improved subjects’ abilities to reorient their attention and measurably lengthened their attention spans [4]. Another study showed that human resource workers who meditated regularly had sharper and longer focus on their work tasks compared to those who didn’t practice meditation. They were also able to multitask more effectively without forgetting details of their tasks [5].

Researchers have pinpointed networks in the brain associated with mind-wandering and a lack of attention. Interestingly, their studies on meditation have concluded that the occurrence of these networks can be reversed with regular meditation practice, so that you have less of an attention deficit as you work on tasks [6]. One study notes that just four days of practicing meditation on a daily basis grows your attention span significantly [7].

4. Lowers Your Risk for Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease is a leading cause of death, and many lifestyle factors contribute to increasing your risk of heart disease. Chronic stress, inflammation and high blood pressure are known factors that increase your heart disease risk, meditation is shown to combat all of them. In a 5-year study, 201 participants at a high risk for heart disease were either provided a meditation class or didn’t meditate, and their heart disease risk factors were analyzed. The study’s results found that meditation students had a 48 percent reduction in heart disease risk compared to participants who didn’t meditate. They had significantly lower blood pressure and lower mental stress than the non-meditation group [8].

5. Boosts Your Immune System

Research suggests that with regular meditation practice, you can boost your immune system and have better resilience to viral invaders. Stress has a suppressive effect on your immune system. When your body stays in “fight or flight” mode due to excessive worry or a high-stress work environment, all your physical resources go toward keeping you alert and prepared to survive an impending threat. By lowering stress hormone levels and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with rest and immune function, meditation encourages the immune system to stay active. Research has even found that meditation can reduce the decline of immune cells in people with HIV [9].

6. Lowers Blood Pressure

High blood pressure puts strain on your heart. It contributes to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which raises your risk for heart attack and stroke. Several studies have proven that meditation measurably lowers blood pressure. In an analysis of 12 studies involving 996 participants on the relationship between meditation and blood pressure, it was concluded that meditation lowers your blood pressure in the short-term by approximately 5 points [10].

When you’re stressed, your brain tells your blood vessels to constrict to prepare for quick muscular reactions. Meditation works by bringing your body out of the “fight or flight” response, in effect modulating the nerve signals involved in your heart’s function. It tells the circulatory system to relax, releasing tension in your blood vessels. This brings down your blood pressure in both the short and long term, and helps lower your risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease as a result [11].

7. Lowers Inflammation and Improves Inflammatory Disorders

Amazingly, meditation is able to work at the cellular level to lower inflammation in your body. Inflammation is a normal immune response to damage in the body. However, excessive and chronic free radical damage in the body can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation that raises your risk for inflammatory disorders and other diseases. By regulating the immune system’s response and reducing inflammation, meditation can help prevent and improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and more. In one study, meditation was shown to be more effective in treating inflammatory symptoms than nutritional education, exercise and music therapy [12].

8. Improves Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Symptoms

By lowering cortisol levels, meditation can help bring the other hormones into balance. Research suggests this action may improve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in women, which can include irritability, mood swings and more. In a 12-week study on women with a severe form of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), meditation was shown to reduce impairment and stress in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle [13].

9. Helps with Menopausal Symptoms

Another benefit of the hormone-balancing effect of meditation is that it improves symptoms in menopausal women. In a study involving 110 menopausal women, participants were trained in meditation and their symptoms were examined over a 3-month period. The women who took meditation classes had less stress and anxiety, better sleep and a self-perceived better quality of life [14].

10. Helps Prevent Neurodegenerative Diseases and Delay or Slow Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Thirty minutes of meditation per day has been shown to lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Meditation also lengthens attention span, improves working memory and boosts mental agility in elderly people experiencing normal age-related cognitive decline. Meditation could be an effective adjunctive therapy for improving symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases [15].

11. Fights Insomnia and Promotes Better Sleep

As many as 1 in 3 Americans don’t get the amount of sleep or the quality of sleep they’d like to have. If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, or falling back to sleep in the middle of the night, you may suffer from insomnia. Studies on meditation and sleep have uncovered the amazing ability a simple, daily meditation practice has to improve insomnia. By relaxing your body and mind, meditation can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer, research shows [16].

12. Helps Manage Pain

Pain is not just a physical sensation, but also a mental perception. When you’re stressed, your perception of pain becomes elevated. Research suggests that meditation modulates the brain’s perception of pain in a way that reduces pain. In a fascinating clinical trial, people receiving meditation training had a decreased sensitivity to pain compared to people who did not meditate. In this trial, both meditators and non-meditators were given the same pain stimulus, but meditators coped better with the pain and even reported less sensation of pain [17]. In a large study involving 3,500 participants with chronic or intermittent pain, regular meditation practice lowered the incidence and intensity of pain.

A few studies have looked at how meditation might be able to help people with fibromyalgia, which is a chronic condition involving stiffness, pain, anxiety and depression. In one 2-month study, people with fibromyalgia experienced significantly improved symptoms from meditating daily [18].

13. Promotes Longevity

By lowering stress and promoting positive mental states, meditation may have the potential to increase your lifespan. Data has shown that meditation improves the health of telomeres, which are essentially the ends of your chromosomes. By protecting each end of your chromosomes from deterioration, telomeres play a big role in aging at the cellular level. Researchers suggest that by maintaining the health of your telomeres, meditation could potentially slow aging and promote longevity [19].

14. Improves Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin disease involving red, inflamed patches of skin. You wouldn’t think there’s a connection between meditation and a skin disease, but science has found one. Amazingly, meditation can help manage psoriasis and reduce symptoms by managing stress and inflammation. In a study on patients receiving treatment for psoriasis, those who also received meditation therapy had a higher treatment success rate and saw improvements faster compared to those who didn’t meditate [20].

15. Helps With Addiction Recovery

Recovering from addiction requires both a mental effort and physical shift, and meditation seems to help on both fronts. By reducing stress, meditation can help re-regulate your nervous system after drug addiction. It also raises your self-awareness and improves self-control. It helps you cope with emotions and control your impulses. In a study on recovering alcoholics, those who meditated had better control over their addiction compared to non-meditators and experienced fewer relapses [21]. While counseling and medical intervention are often required for addiction recovery, meditation equips you with the mental discipline you need to control your behaviors.

16. Reduces Feelings of Loneliness

Meditation is shown to reduce feelings of loneliness—a factor that increases mortality and disease risk. In a study on elderly individuals who suffer from loneliness, a daily meditation practice lowered inflammation and reduced reported feelings of loneliness. The emotional stress caused by feelings of loneliness was associated with higher inflammation in the body, whereas meditation was shown to bring the inflammation down [22].

17. Helps Prevent Emotional Eating and Binge Eating

If you struggle with emotional eating or binge eating, meditation may help. It’s shown to control food cravings, and in studies it’s helped participants reduce emotional and binge eating. Though meditation isn’t a physical exercise, its effects on your brain could potentially help you lose weight by helping you gain control of your eating behaviors [23].

18. Boosts Creativity

Creativity is important no matter what industry you’re in. It’s required to solve problems using higher level thinking, which can improve your life whether you stay at home with your kids, run a business or hold down a job. A study on meditation found that it improves creativity and divergent thinking, measured through a task that involved coming up with new ideas. Participants who practiced meditation performed better in this creativity task compared to non-meditators, suggesting that meditation stimulates creative centers of the brain and raises your level of thinking [24].

19. Improves Your Memory Function and Learning Ability

There’s no denying that meditation enhances your brain’s functioning. MRI scans show that it increases gray-matter density in brain regions associated with memory, learning and self-awareness [25]. This suggests meditation could improve the functioning of your brain, enhance your cognitive skills and help preserve your memory as you age. Meditation promotes better neuroplasticity, which is the ability to rewire the brain in response to learning. Neuroplasticity is known to decline with age, but meditation could potentially prevent or reduce this decline and allow you to continue learning new things and acquiring new skill sets no matter your age.

Getting Started with a Meditation Practice

People just getting started with meditation tend to dwell on the how of meditation, when really the how often is the main key to receiving all the benefits meditation has to offer. There are a variety of meditation techniques, but they’ve all been proven to enhance your body and mind. Whether your goal is better mental health and resilience, insomnia relief or a healthier heart, meditation works best when it’s practiced consistently. There are short-term benefits of meditation, but the long-term benefits of regular practice are much more significant.

The best way to practice meditation is to do it daily for a short amount of time, such as 10 to 15 minutes. While it doesn’t seem like a lot, you can squeeze it into your day and it adds up over time. Put it on your calendar or set a notification on your phone to meditate at the same time each day until it becomes a habit. Making it part of your morning or night time routine can also help you stay consistent.

When you stick with it, meditation can help you manage stress and prevent mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It can lower your risk for several diseases, from diabetes to heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease. It also improves your brain function by stimulating creativity, boosting memory function and concentration and improving neuroplasticity.

In a nutshell, scientific research confirms that meditation will keep you healthier, more productive and improve your quality of life. You can take meditation classes, participate in group meditations or experiment on your own to find a meditation style that works best for you.

References:

1. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis

2. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Health Care Professionals: Results From a Randomized Trial

3. Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program

4. Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention

5. Initial results from a study of the effects of meditation on multitasking performance

6. On mind wandering, attention, brain networks, and meditation

7. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training

8. Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

9. Mindfulness Meditation Slows Progression Of HIV, Study Suggests

10. Investigating the effect of transcendental meditation on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis

11. Meditation: should a cardiologist care?

12. Chronic Inflammation May Be Relieved By Mindfulness Meditation

13. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction as a Promising Intervention for Amelioration of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder Symptoms

14. Mindfulness Training for Coping with Hot Flashes: Results of a Randomized Trial

15. Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases

16. The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia

17. Brain Mechanisms Supporting Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation

18. Mindfulness Training as an Intervention for Fibromyalgia: Evidence of Postintervention and 3-Year Follow-Up Benefits in Well-Being

19. Can Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging? Cognitive Stress, Mindfulness, and Telomeres

20. Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA)

21. Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study

22. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training Reduces Loneliness and Pro-Inflammatory Gene Expression in Older Adults: A Small Randomized Controlled Trial

23. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review

24. Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking

25. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training

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