Here’s How Meditation Improves The Health Of Your Body & Mind

Health-Benefits-Of-Meditation

I recommend meditation practices for almost every single person I see in my telehealth clinic, and I practice meditation every day. Daily meditation over a long period of time is one of the least invasive ways to practice self-care and restore your gut-brain connection.

It’s vital to understand the kind of meditation program that works for you to reap the evidence-based health benefits of meditation.

Let’s review the science of how meditation can improve your mental and physical health.

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1. Reduced Inflammation

When facing significant stressors in life, your body undergoes many processes that can lead to inflammation. One such process is the way a factor called NFkB is expressed, increasing chronic inflammation (a contributor to almost every chronic health problem in modern society).

NFkB (Nuclear Factor Kappa B) is a protein transcription factor that controls certain genes responsible for inflammation. (1) The way this factor “expresses” itself is one thing scientists often research in connection with inflammatory diseases, especially autoimmune conditions.

A randomized controlled trial found that a meditation program for just 12 minutes each day over the course of 8 weeks reduced the NFkB activity, lowering chronic inflammation caused by stress. (2)

LISTEN: Yung Pueblo: How To Use Spirituality + Meditation To Heal Your Body 

2. Improved Immune Function

Related to its impact on inflammation, meditation may also improve genetic pathways that control our immune system. (3)

A systematic review of studies in 2016 found that mindfulness meditation, in particular, improved several markers of immunity across different conditions, from upper respiratory infection to HIV. (4)

3. Less Chronic Pain

Since meditation can lower inflammation and promote a sense of calm, it makes sense that it can also naturally ease pain. Meditation improves several brain mechanisms that impact how we experience pain, from pain intensity to how unpleasant that pain feels. (5)

When testing meditation techniques for chronic pain, researchers discovered that, compared to placebo, meditation decreased pain, improved quality of life, and even reduced depression symptoms. (6)

Mindfulness meditation may also reduce pain in fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (7, 8)

Related: 8 Amazing Acupressure Mat Benefits 

4. Better Mental Health

Many studies show that meditation helps to reduce anxiety. This works because the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that calms feelings of anxiousness, is activated by meditation. (9)

The effects of meditation also rival the results of mood-altering medications for emotion regulation. Research over the years has shown that meditation can help treat: (10)

One reason this might happen is that meditation increases gray matter volume in the brain in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri areas that control mood. (10)

For addiction, in particular, meditation might help reduce cravings for alcohol and binge eating. (12, 13)

Read Next: The 15 Best Natural Supplements For Anxiety 

5. Reduced Stress

Stress isn’t just something you feel; it’s measurable! Markers like cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’), heart rate, blood pressure, C-reactive protein, and TNF-alpha are just some of the factors scientists test to identify biological stress.

All of the different types of meditation reduced these markers, according to a 2017 meta-analysis of studies. (14)

Meditative practices positively regulate the area of the brain that controls stress, known as the subiculum area of the hippocampus. (15)

This is just further proof that meditation is not woo-woo — it reduces chronic stress by improving the way your brain operates (no crystals necessary!).

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6. Longevity

Not only does meditation reduce your stress levels and improve your quality of life, but it can also make that high-quality life last longer.

Telomeres are the ‘caps’ of your chromosomes, often described as the plastic parts at the end of shoestrings. Longer telomeres and more telomerase activity are associated with slower aging, while short, inactive telomeres point to a shorter lifespan.

Meditation helps to preserve telomere length, increase telomerase activity, and reduce cellular stress that ages you at the molecular level. (16, 4) Yoga with meditation offers these benefits to otherwise healthy people (not just those who are already in a health decline). (17)

LISTEN: Torrey DeVitto: The Unconventional Mind-Body Practices That Can Help You Live A Longer, Healthier Life 

7. Enhanced Focus And Attention

If you struggle with focus, meditation may help you reduce mind-wandering and give you more focused attention. A 10-minute meditation session improved the way participants’ brains directed their attention when compared to a placebo in a 2018 study. (18)

A specific form of meditation, focused attention meditation training (FAM), may significantly increase cognitive performance and attention span. (19) According to multiple case studies, mindfulness meditation training may treat ADHD effectively enough to reduce or eliminate the need for prescription drugs. (20)

Regular meditation is associated with more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the angular cingulate cortex, the areas of the brain responsible for memory and focus. (21)

8. Protection From Cognitive Decline

In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that meditation may help offset age-related cognitive decline in older adults. (22) Types of meditation noted in these studies included mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, transcendental meditation, yogic meditation, visualization, and others.

This suggests that meditation, regardless of the type, may protect brain health as you age.

And it’s not just a preventive technique — long-term mindfulness-based interventions can actually reverse some of the cognitive impairments associated with age. (23)

One potential explanation for this is that meditation can increase the thickness of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, supporting neuroplasticity and slowing cognitive decline. (24) Neuroplasticity is the way your brain regenerates itself by creating new neural connections.

Listening to specific types of music (familiar or relaxing classical) results in similar improvements to meditation for cognitive functioning and may enhance meditation’s benefits. (25)

@drwillcole Join me and @onepeloton yoga teacher, Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts ( @_chelsealovesyoga ) in a recent podcast. Explore the real truths behind yoga and meditation. Listen now anywhere you get your podcasts. 🎙️ Save this for later! #taobw #drwillcole #peloton #pelotonyoga #yogamyths #yogandmeditation ♬ original sound - Dr. Will Cole

9. Stabilized Blood Pressure

Over time, consistent meditation may reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (26, 14) Keeping blood pressure within the normal range is a huge factor in preventing heart disease and various health conditions.

The techniques most likely to lower blood pressure include transcendental meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

In one study, researchers found that transcendental meditation was twice as effective as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), a mindfulness practice, in reducing high blood pressure. (27)

10. Deeper Social Connections

Even though meditation is typically done in solitude, research reveals that meditation may increase our sense of connection with others. (28)

Loving-kindness meditation, rooted in Buddhist practices, can magnify feelings of social connection and a positive attitude towards others (especially people you’ve just met). (29) Mindfulness training is another form of meditation that reduces loneliness and increases the desire for more social contact. (30)

Group meditation studios and classes capitalizing on this fact are a great way to help increase your emotional intelligence and deepen your social connection.

Read Next: Exactly How To Embrace JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out)

11. More Compassion And Introspection

It takes just a few scrolls on X (formerly Twitter) to recognize that compassion and self-control are lacking in modern society. In many cases, the problem is that people project their own insecurities on others and are afraid to show empathy because it’s a vulnerable experience.

Fortunately, these are fixable issues! One randomized controlled trial showed that after 9 weeks of meditation, self-compassion increased and fear of displaying compassion decreased. (31)

Long-term meditation might also help you become more introspective and self-aware of your body and mind in the present moment. (30) A 2014 review of studies found that an average of 2.5 hours of meditation per week can be enough to reap the psychological health benefits. (32)

That equates to only 21 minutes a day! Think about how much time you waste on social media. Certainly, we all have 21 minutes to spare to meditate every day to improve our mind-body connection.

12. Better Sleep

Sleep disturbances and poor sleep quality over time can have a significantly negative effect on your health. A review of 18 studies discovered that mindfulness meditation “significantly improved sleep quality.” (33)

Some research suggests that it may even be a medication-free way to treat chronic insomnia. (34)

FAQs

Meditation is a practice designed to focus thoughts on a singular thing. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that aims to make you more self-aware of your body, physical sensations, and feelings.

These are often used in conjunction with each other, but not all forms of meditation involve mindfulness.

There are many different forms of meditation, and some of the most popular include:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Mantra meditation
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Visualization
  • Loving-kindness meditation
  • Breath or breathwork
  • Pranayama
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
  • Tai chi (meditation in motion)

Meditation offers so many benefits to the brain and body during the aging process. Research shows that it can:

  • Increase telomere length to support more vibrant longevity
  • Reduce feelings of loneliness and depression
  • Reduce stress associated with loss and grief
  • Protect the brain from age-related cognitive decline
  • Support healthy blood pressure
  • Improve social connections
  • Increase sleep quality
  • Reduce pain associated with many chronic conditions

Breathwork meditation can improve blood pressure, lung capacity, cognitive performance, immunity, mood, attention span, and cortisol levels.

Around 8% of people experience negative effects from meditation, according to the NCCIH. Though they’re usually short-term and don’t cause a need for medical intervention, these side effects most often include increased feelings of anxiety and depression. (35)

To avoid potential negative impacts, start meditating for just 5 minutes per day and work your way to 20-30 minutes at a time.

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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