A growing body of research evidence is supporting the claim thatmeditation is good for our health. With benefits ranging from fewer colds to pain management, meditation seems to allow people to cultivate a sense of clarity and calm that can permeate all aspects of life and that improves with practice.
Here are some of the many beneficial effects that scientists have identified in studies:
- Stronger immune system. Meditators experienced fewer wintercolds and flus (Barrett et al. 2012) and produced more antibodies in response to a flu vaccine (Davidson et al. 2003) than those who did not meditate.
- Enhanced attention. After 3 months of meditation training, subjects had better attention and used their resources more efficiently (Slagter et al. 2007).
- Lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.Transcendental meditation lowered blood pressure among African Americans with heart disease and was associated with a 43% reduction in risk of death, heart attack and stroke (Schneider et al. 2009).
- Less anxiety and depression. A research review found that both Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy had broad applications for people with depression and anxiety (Marchand 2012).
- Increased feelings of compassion and empathy. Mindfulness training helped to increase self-compassion and empathy in people with mood disorders (Farb, Anderson & Segal 2012).
- Fewer binge episodes. A group of women who practiced mindfulness meditation for 6 weeks cut their binge eating episodes by half after experiencing meditation (Kristiller & Hallett 1999).
- Lower blood sugar. Patients with metabolic syndrome lowered blood pressure and blood sugar and improved insulin regulation after practicing transcendental meditation for 16 weeks (Paul-Labrador et al. 2006).
- Improved sleep. A literature review found that consistent meditators using a variety of meditation styles experienced better sleep quality than people who did not meditate (Nagendra, Maruthai & Kutty 2012).
- Better pain management. The same literature review showed that both Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Zen meditation helped people with pain management (Nagendra, Maruthai & Kutty 2012). In another study, expert meditators experienced the same intensity of pain as novices, but felt less unpleasantness (Lutz et al. 2012).
Changes in the Brain
Researchers are using modern technology to explore how meditation is able to provide these (and other) benefits. Findings confirm that meditation practice creates structural changes in the brain, which is significant, because neuroscientists used to think the brain’s development reached a peak in adulthood and then declined with age. Research is now showing that how we use the brain impacts its development and function (just as how we use the body affects its health and function).
The structural changes in the brain that occur with meditation are associated with improved functionality: enhanced concentration, better ability to learn and remember, more ability to tolerate pain and less emotional reactivity toward external stimuli. In multiple studies, people who meditate have better attention, concentration, emotion regulation, pain tolerance and memory than those who do not.
Note: See www.ideafit.com/meditation-brain for specific research findings on how meditation changes the brain.
The Fountain of Youth?
New lines of research show that meditation may lead to biological changes that decrease the inflammation response of the immune system on a cellular level and can contribute to looking and feeling younger. Two separate studies of meditation, one involving the practice of a Kirtan Kriya meditation from kundalini yoga and the other involving qigong practice, a moving meditation, both identified improved telomerase activity, which is linked to cellular health (Black et al. 2012; Ho et al. 2012).
“Telomerase is an important enzyme that protects us from aging by guarding the shortening of telomeres during cell division,” said study author Rainbow T. Ho, director of the Centre on Behavioral Health at the University of Hong Kong. This reduction in inflammation may be related to optimizing health and slowing damage from the aging process.
For more information on meditation, plus a full list of references, please see “Meditation: Push-Ups for the Brain” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.
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© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
I know this video is long, but please take the time to watch. I really didn’t think I would sit and watch the entire thing, but I was so fascinated that I couldn’t tear myself away. This is the researched and scientific study of the evolution of man and our diet, from millions of years ago to present day, as well as the health implications of the changes we have made to our diet. This presentation will answer any question you have as to whether our diet should be meat based or vegetarian. It discusses grains and the implications on our health. It shows how dairy contributes to osteoporosis by disrupting our acid-base balance. He also talks about oils and sugars and the effect on our health. I found it interesting that the year that high fructose corn syrup was introduced into our diet was the same year I started gaining weight as a child. Make sure you listen to questions from the audience at the end where he addresses how our diet increases inflammation in our body and it’s effect on the liver. I was shocked to find out that people are now primarily getting cirrhosis of the liver from obesity, rather than alcohol use!
Another great article on the role grains play in creating inflammation and disease in our bodies. If you think that whole wheat bread you’re eating is good for you, think again.
At the moment, I am reading “Younger Next Year: Live Strong,, Fit, and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond.” This book was recommended to me by one of my clients, not because he thought I would learn something, but because he thought I would be interested in a book that talks about everything I try to teach my clients (and anyone else who will listen to me). All those tidbits of information about how much we should be exercising, what we should be eating (or not eating), and the role inflammation plays in our health. I love this book, not just because it embodies everything I believe in, but also because the authors make it funny, easy to read, and motivating.
So what does this have to do with my anniversary, you ask? Well, November officially marks one year since I incorporated the 28 Days to Health program into my life. When I started this program I had no idea how much it would change my life. I had known for a number of years about the role food plays in our health and it’s effect on inflammation in the body. This was the first time I had found a program that was designed to reduce inflammation by teaching people what to eat. I decided to try it for myself just to see what it was all about but I honestly didn’t think I would get much out of it personally. My food intake was almost identical to that of the program, I really only needed to change a few small things. How much difference could that possibly make, right? Wrong, I was so wrong. I learned so much about how what I was eating was affecting my body, my health, my energy levels, and my emotions. It was an eye opener! Within one month, I knew I had to teach this program so that I could help others towards better health and educate as many people as possible about the toxicity of our food supply.
One year later, I am pain free, healthier than I have been in years, and happy. I am stronger and faster than I’ve been in at least 7 years. Every week my running times get a little bit faster. A few days ago, a friend told me that she had seen me out running and how strong I looked and with great form. What an improvement from a few years ago when friends were telling me that limping while I run is probably a good sign to stop running and try something different!!! And this week, I was able to run three times in one week without pain. The last time I could do that without crippling myself was about 7 years ago. I’m 42, BUT I feel 25! I feel good, I look healthy, and I get the added bonus of helping others improve the quality of their lives! 28 Days to Health has not only made me younger in one year, it has made me about 7 years younger in one year!
Oh, and I can’t forget to add that I got a free trip to the Bahamas this summer, just for helping others! Life doesn’t get any better than this ! A very Happy Anniversary to me 🙂