People have practised meditation since 1500BC. Today, many people know about its effect on mental well-being. But did you know of the physical health benefits of regular meditation? Studies show that it has a surprising impact on the well-being of your body as well as your mind!
The Health Benefits of Regular Meditation
Meditation is part of our ancient history. It was a key aspect of early Hindu traditions, and later practised as part of Taoism and Buddhism. It is now popular in the West.
People meditate for a variety of reasons. It’s been shown to have many psychological benefits. Research finds meditation increases brain functioning. This boosts your sense of well-being (Nyklíček & Kuijpers, 2008). It also fine tunes your focus, improving your cognition (Zeidan et al., 2010). Alongside this, it’s shown to improve relationships. This is because it helps you connect and empathise with others (Wachs & Cordova, 2007). Furthermore, it strengthens your emotional stability and helps you solve problems (Ostafin & Kassmann, 2012).
Science is now revealing surprising physical health benefits of regular meditation, too. This post will go into how meditation is a powerful health booster. And not just for the mind, but also for the body.
Many of the health benefits of regular meditation arise through its effect on our stress levels. Perhaps the best way to help you understand the importance of less stress in your life is to discuss how bad it can be for your health.
Stress – a Serious Health Risk
Many serious diseases are strongly linked to stress. A stressful life is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even premature death. Stress speeds up ageing of the entire body. One study showed that a high level of stress increased ageing by up to 17 years! (Griffin, n.d.). Alongside the more serious consequences, too much stress is often to blame for many more common ailments.
Sadly, in modern day life, it is hard to avoid stress. But science has proven that meditating regularly can help lower stress levels. It can even reduce the density of brain areas that deal with worrying and anxiety (Science of People, n.d.). Because of its effect on your stress levels, there are many physical health benefits of regular meditation.
Physical Health Benefits of Regular Meditation
Now let’s look at some of the scientifically proven ways meditating can nourish your body as well as your mind.
1. Lower Levels of Cortisol
When we are stressed, the adrenal gland in the brain produces cortisol. While our bodies use this hormone for many vital processes, too much of it can damage your health.
High cortisol levels are linked to a wide variety of issues. Fatigue, high blood pressure, and weight gain are just a few. It can also lead to headaches, acne, and muscle weakness (Ernst, 2018), and many other health concerns.
The more stress we experience, the more cortisol our bodies produce. But relax. One of the health benefits of regular meditation is a lower level of cortisol (Turakitwanakan et al., 2013). Through reducing the level of stress you feel day to day, meditating helps you keep cortisol in check. This protects you from the adverse effects of high cortisol.
2. Better Sleep
Today, just under half of the UK’s population admit they don’t get enough sleep. Almost a third are severely sleep deprived (NHS, 2011) Loss of sleep can really harm your health. A report by the Mental Health foundation revealed many adverse health outcomes. It can affect concentration and mood, and can even be fatal (Mental Health Foundation, 2011).
Luckily though, there are effective ways to treat sleep problems. One of the health benefits of regular meditation is both better, and longer sleep.
Research shows meditation is a potent sleep aid. It can even help with severe sleep disorders. One study monitored the sleep of people suffering from insomnia. Those who practised meditation both fell asleep quicker and slept for longer (Martires & Zeidler, 2015).
Meditation benefits regular sleepers too, sometimes more than other interventions. One study gave some participants a mindfulness meditation course, and others a course in ‘sleep hygiene’. They found that quality of sleep improved more in those who meditated. But there were even more health benefits of regular meditation in this study. Due to better sleep, people who meditated also showed fewer depression symptoms, as well as less fatigue (Black et al., 2015).
With better sleep, you’ll also have a healthier heart. You’ll also have less inflammation in your body, which helps you reduce diabetes and cancer risk (Stibich, 2019).
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Another of the many health benefits of regular meditation is its effect on blood pressure. High blood pressure can have serious long term consequences. It essentially means your heart must work harder. This harms the heart and narrows the arteries. And as a result, increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. (Thorpe, 2017).
Research shows that regular meditation practice can moderate blood pressure. It has a relaxing effect on the sympathetic nervous system (associated with your fight or flight response to stress). It also boosts the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system. This has a widening effect on blood vessels, helping blood flow (Wong, 2019).
With healthy blood pressure, you’ll not only help avoid heart attack and stroke. You’ll also boost your kidney health. Alongside this, those with high blood pressure can sometimes see an improvement in vision.
4. Better Digestive Health
We’ve all experienced digestive discomfort at some point. Issues like IBS and IBD are widespread and can seriously affect your quality of life. These digestive problems also lead to poor absorption of nutrients in food. If your gut is not healthy, you end up with many different symptoms. If you suffer from sleep problems, weight fluctuations, or skin irritations, these are all signs of an unhealthy gut. It’s also linked to autoimmune disorders and food intolerances (Dix, 2018).
Stress levels have a huge impact on digestive health. This is why one of the health benefits of regular meditation is relief from many gut problems. Recent research shows meditation is effective in treating IBS and IBD, two common digestive health issues.
For example, IBS and IBD sufferers reported feeling less bloated after a period of meditation practise. They also experienced less pain. When they were followed up three months later, researchers found a further decrease in their symptoms. Their study found that meditation was a beneficial treatment for these disorders (Keefer & Blanchard, 2002).
Another study gave IBS sufferers a course of ‘relaxation training’. This involved guided imagery meditation. They not only found that the symptoms of IBS reduced, but also anxiety levels dropped, and mood improved (Mizrahi et al., 2012).
5. A Stronger Immune System
Did you know that one of the health benefits of regular meditation is to guard your body against illness and disease?
The immune system is known as the ‘floating brain’. This is because it’ can access and affect chemical messages the brain sends throughout your body. Your mood, as well as the thoughts you think, and the sensations you feel, are therefore linked to your immune cells (Chopra, n.d.).
With a healthier immune system, you’ll be far less likely to get ill. New research unveiled that meditation increases antibodies. These antibodies help protect you from invading bacteria and viruses. This protects you from catching colds, stomach bugs, and more. But the immune health benefits of regular meditation don’t just apply to common sickness bugs. Strengthening your immune system also means you are better protected from severe disease.
One study found that meditation helps people with HIV. This happens through its effect on immune cells. Researchers gave HIV-positive people a week-long meditation course. After this, they practised for 30-45 minutes a day. This study found that regular meditation slowed down the drop in immune cells caused by HIV (Cresswell et al., 2008).
Another way meditation helps the immune system is through changes in brain activity. It helps increase in electrical activity in key brain areas. These areas moderate awareness, anxiety, and positive emotions. They also control the immune system. Meditation stimulates these areas, which means your immune system functions better (Cresswell et al., 2008; Chopra, n.d.)
How To Begin Meditating
Now you know of the health benefits of regular meditation, why not begin today? The great thing about meditation is that you can do it anywhere, and you need nothing but a quiet space and a comfortable place to relax.
The key to better health is in the consistency of your practise. Most of the research has shown these health benefits after a period of daily practise. So, begin with devoting only as much time as you can stick to. Experiment with different forms of meditation to find what works for you. The key is to make meditation a part of your daily life.
Meditation is an ancient practise but is easily used in the modern world. There are even apps to help you learn meditation and mindfulness practises. Alternatively, follow a guided one on Youtube, or find a local class. Every time you meditate, you’re giving your health a powerful boost!
We’ve covered how meditating can improve your sleep. Did you know that better sleep also helps you lose weight? Find out about the effect of sleep on weight loss here.
Meditating also eases digestive issues. It could be your diet causing these, even if you always eat ‘clean’. Find out how a high protein diet can cause bloating here.
Meditation is a great tool to boost mental wellbeing. As we’ve covered, it also improves physical health. There’s a strong connection between mental and physical health, which you can read about here.
Looking for ways to relax? Alongside meditation, a sports massage might help. It also remedies many injuries. Find out about the benefits of sports massage and when to have one here.