12 scientifically tested benefits of meditation

Meditation has become more popular in recent years as more and more people are aware of its benefits. Meditation helps train your mind and helps you focus and redirect your thoughts.

It helps you to increase awareness of your surroundings and of yourself. Many people use meditation to reduce their stress levels and develop deeper focus.

Meditation is also used by many people to create other beneficial feelings and habits, such as positive outlook, healthy sleep patterns, self-discipline, and even better pain tolerance.

In this article, we look at 12 of the science-based benefits of meditation.

1. Stress reduction

Reducing stress is one of the most frequent reasons many people try meditation. A study of 3,500 adults concluded that it definitely lives up to its stress-reducing reputation.

Usually, the increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol is caused by physical and mental stress. Cortisol creates a lot of the damaging effects of stress, such as releasing inflammatory chemicals, cytokines. These harmful effects promote anxiety and depression, increased blood pressure, disturbed sleep, and can lead to fatigue and clouded thinking.

In a recent study conducted over an eight-week period, the “mindful meditation” style of meditation yielded promising results as it saw a reduced inflammatory response in its candidates.

Another study of 1,300 people showed that meditation can reduce stress. The effects were noticeably stronger in individuals with the highest levels of stress.

Research has continued to show that symptoms of stress-related conditions can also be reduced with meditation. Thus, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome can all be diminished somewhat with meditation.

2. Control anxiety

For example, participants in an eight-week mindful meditation study found that their anxiety had reduced. They also found that they reduced the symptoms of anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

In another study, 18 participants in an eight-week meditation program were screened three years later. The results showed that most of the volunteers continued to practice meditation and their anxiety levels were lower over the long term.

A study of 2,466 volunteers, a much larger scale, concluded that different types of meditation strategies can reduce anxiety levels. One example is yoga. The reduction is most likely because the participants benefited from both physical activity and meditation practices.

Studies also show that meditation can help with work-related stress and anxiety that comes from high-pressure work environments. A group of nurses who took part in a study found a reduction in anxiety.

3. Promotion of emotional health

There are some types of meditation that can lead people to have a more positive outlook on life and a better self-image.

Two studies involving 4,600 people in total showed that mindfulness meditation leads to a decrease in depression.

A study of 18 people who were followed over a three-year period showed that volunteers experienced long-term reductions in depression.

Released due to stress, inflammatory chemicals called cytokines can affect mood and this can lead to depression. After reviewing several studies, the results showed that meditation could reduce depression because it aids in the reduction of inflammatory chemicals.

Another controlled study looked at the electrical activity between the brains of people who practiced mindful meditation and that of people who didn’t. People who meditated showed changes in activities related to areas such as positive thinking and optimism.

4. Improvement of self-awareness

Meditation in some forms can help you develop a better awareness and understanding of yourself. This, in turn, can help you grow to be the best version of yourself.

One example is that self-reflection meditation clearly aims to help you better understand yourself and how you relate to other people.

Other types of meditation teach you to notice harmful or self-destructive thoughts. The idea is that the more awareness you have of your thinking habits, the more easily you can direct them towards more constructive habits.

21 women battling breast cancer participated in a study. Those who took part in tai chi were found to have better overall self-esteem than those who received social support sessions.

Another study of 40 older men and women who took a mindful meditation program showed a decrease in feelings of loneliness compared to those placed on the program’s waiting list.

It has also been found that by meditating, it is possible to become more creative in problem solving.

5. The attention span becomes longer

Focused attention meditation is great for helping to increase the stamina and strength of your attention.

A study that looked at the effects of mindful meditation over an eight-week course period found that participants’ ability to maintain their attention was improved.

Similarly, a study showed that HR workers who practiced meditation continuously could stay focused on tasks for longer periods of time. These human resources workers could also remember the details of their duties much better than those colleagues who did not participate in meditation.

Additionally, meditation has been found to reverse brain patterns that lead to worry, poor attention, and wandering of the mind.

Meditation for short periods of time can also be beneficial. A recent study showed that practicing meditation for four days can be enough to improve attention span.

6. Age-related memory loss can be reduced

By improving attention and clarity of thought, it can help keep the mind young.

A meditation method called Kirtan Kriya combines a chant or mantra with a repetitive finger movement aimed at controlling thoughts. The result is that participants have an increased ability to perform memory tasks in various age-related memory loss studies.

Additionally, following a review of 12 different studies, multiple types of meditation were found to increase memory, attention, and mental speed in older participants.

In addition to helping fight age-related memory loss, meditation has been found to partially improve the memory of patients with dementia. Meditation can help control stress and improve those who care for family members with dementia.

7. It helps to generate gentilezza

Some types of meditation can create more positive feelings and actions towards oneself and towards others.

Metta is a type of meditation which is also known as a loving-kindness meditation. It starts with developing kind feelings and thoughts about yourself.

People can learn to extend these kinds of thoughts and feelings to others through practice. It is taught to extend to friends, acquaintances and, finally, enemies.

The results of 22 studies on this type of meditation have shown that it has the ability to increase people’s compassion towards themselves and others.

100 adults were assigned to a random program. The study included metta meditation, and the results found that the benefits were dose-dependent. In other words, the more effort the participants made, the more positive feelings they felt as a result.

A further study has shown that the feelings of positivity that can be developed through metta meditation can help reduce marital conflict, aid in anger management, and improve social anxiety.

8. Can help fight addictions

Meditation can help develop beneficial mental disciplines that can see you break addictions by increasing your awareness of the triggers of addictive behaviors and increasing your self-control.

Meditation can help people redirect their attention, control their emotions and impulses, increase their understanding of what is behind their behavior, and increase their willpower.

In one study, 19 recovering alcoholics were taught to meditate. The results found that volunteers who received meditation training had better control of their cravings and had less stress related to them.

A review of 14 studies showed that mindfulness meditation could also help control food cravings. Participants showed a decrease in binges and emotional eating.

9. Improve sleep

Insomnia will, at one time or another, affect nearly half of the population.

One study looked at two mindfulness-based meditation programs that assigned participants to two different groups at random. One of the groups practiced meditation and the other did not.

Those who meditated fell asleep much earlier and slept longer. Those who did not meditate did not have the same result.

Meditation is a skill, and embracing and learning this skill can help you redirect and control the thoughts that run and can often lead to insomnia.

Additionally, your body is helped to relax, tension is released, and you are put into a state of peace where your body and mind are more likely to fall asleep.

10. Helps control pain

Your perception of pain is directly related to your mood, and in stressful situations the pain can be high.

One study, for example, looked at MRI techniques to see participants’ brain activity as they experienced a painful stimulus. Some of the volunteers had previously participated in a four-day mindful meditation program, others not.

Participants who meditated showed greater activity in the brain centers that control pain and also experienced less pain as a result.

A larger study of 3,500 people researched the effects of habitual meditation. The study found that meditation helped reduce complaints of intermittent or chronic pain.

Another study looked at patients who meditate and suffer from terminal illness. Meditation has been found to help relieve pain at the end of life.

In all of these situations, meditators and non-meditators were experiencing the same cause of pain, however, those who meditate showed better pain management and in some, a reduced amount of pain.

11. Can lower blood pressure

Meditation has been shown to help reduce strain on the heart, thus aiding physical health.

If you have high blood pressure, over time this will make your heart work harder to keep pumping blood. Ultimately, it can lead to weak heart function.

High blood pressure can also contribute to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). This can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

A study of 9996 participants was undertaken and found that blood pressure can be reduced by about five points when meditation focuses on a silent mantra, hence a repeated, unspoken word. The study was found to be more effective on older participants who already suffered from high blood pressure.

A review of various studies showed that different types of meditation gave similar improvements in blood pressure.

Meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing nerve signals that work with blood vessel tension, coordinating heart functions, and the fight-or-flight response that escalates in stressful scenarios.

12. You can meditate anywhere

Meditation comes in many forms, and people practice all different types of it. You usually don’t need space or special equipment. You can choose how long to practice each day and you can choose to practice just a few minutes or longer.

If you want to start meditating, you should choose a type of meditation that is based on the results you want to achieve.

There are two main types of meditation:

  • Focused Attention Meditation: This style is one in which concentration is focused on a single object, sound, thought or visualization. Helps clear your mind of distractions. It usually focuses on a mantra, breathing or a sound that induces calm.
  • Open Monitoring Meditation: This style of meditation helps you recognize your surroundings, your environment, your sense of self, and train your thoughts. It usually includes becoming aware of your feelings, impulses, thoughts that you usually try to suppress.

To understand which meditation styles you like best, you can check them out via UCLA and the free Head in the Clouds guided meditation exercises. You can figure out which one is best for you and your needs.

You might also consider joining a class. Sometimes, with busy lives, it can be difficult to find some quiet time alone and consistent with your meditation practice. A class can also help your chances of success, and you may even find a supportive community.

Or why not get up a few minutes earlier in the morning and spend some quiet time? This could help start the day in a positive way.