8 Ways Meditation Can Make You Healthier
Lisa Erickson, MLAG Columnist
Over the last three decades, meditation has been proven to help with everything from high blood pressure to pain management to immune function and more. Meditation is now taught in hospitals, at company retreats, in churches, at school, and of course in yoga and martial arts studios everywhere.
Just in case you haven’t yet been convinced to give it a try, below is some info on the latest meditation research. All of the studies mentioned have met the requirements of the National Institutes of Health, and many of them can be obtained in full online at the NIH website.
In many of these studies, the kind of meditation tested was MBSR – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. In the most common MBSR method, you simply scan your body while focusing on your breath and noting any discomfort, bringing particular awareness to your senses. Other forms of meditation have been tested as well, and most of the benefits listed here have been proven in more than one study.
Meditation may be able to help you:
Reduce Stress Levels: When we are under stress, our body produces higher levels of cortisol, norepinephrine, and other hormones that over time can lead to many health issues. Meditation has repeatedly been proven to elicit the ‘relaxation response‘ – the physiological opposite of this ‘stress response’. In one study conducted by John Hopkins Medical Center to develop a guide for Nurse Practitioners, meditation was found to be effective for reducing stress in virtually every patient population. Regular meditators can actually reduce their stress ‘set point’, permanently resetting the levels of these chemicals in their system.
Boost Immune Function: Researchers at Loyola University taught meditation to women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. They found that compared to a control group, the meditators’ immune functions stabilized and rebounded much faster after surgery. A study conducted on HIV+ patients at UCLA suggested that meditation helps buffer the decline of the lymphocytes most associated with HIV progression.
Decrease Headache Frequency or Severity: In a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts, researchers taught four different types of meditation to migraine sufferers. As has been demonstrated in prior studies, all four groups experienced a decrease in their headache frequency and severity. An interesting aspect of this study is that it was designed to compare spiritual vs. secular meditation, and all forms of meditation were found to be effective, but those deemed spiritual were actually slightly more so.
Lower Blood Pressure: Many studies have linked meditation to reduced blood pressure. One of the latest at the University of Kentucky found that one type of meditation, Transcendental Meditation, helps reduce both systolic and diabolic pressure. Another study using MBSR, lowered blood pressure over an eight week period more than medication over the same time period with a control group.
Manage Diabetes: A study in Thailand suggests meditation helps manage both glycemic levels and blood pressure in Type-2 Diabetes patients.
Manage Chronic Anxiety: A research review conducted at the Psychology Research Laboratory in Verbania, Italy looked at 10 years worth of research on the effectiveness of meditation for dealing with chronic anxiety, and found that it was statistically effective in all population groupings. A study at the University of Oxford found that meditation helped reduce anxiety amongst bipolar patients.
Reduce Insomnia: A study at Stanford University combined meditation with cognitive approaches for the treatment of insomnia, and found the overall program highly effective.
Manage ADHD: A study at UCLA on adults and adolescents with ADHD found that meditation increased their attention and cognitive abilities, and decreased feelings of anxiety and depression.
These are just some of the many possible medical benefits of meditation. If you or anyone you know suffers from any of these conditions, give meditation a try (mental health patients should of course discuss this with their care providers first.) Even better, meditation is free, and something anyone can do. Just a few minutes a day could really make a difference in your health and well-being.
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