If meditation was available in capsule form, it would be the biggest selling drug on the planet. As the powerful effects of meditation have been validated by all manner of research teams and institutions, a gathering chorus of scientists are voicing this same theme.
Describing the main, physical benefits of meditation in a short blog is not only ambitious, but also somewhat contrived. The more we understand the impact of meditation, the more we realise that describing a benefit as ‘physical’ or ‘psychological’ is an artificial construct. For example, reducing high blood pressure through meditation may seem a measurable and purely physiological benefit, but it only happens because of the psychological change that precedes it.
These qualifiers, aside, what are some of the main, physical benefits? To quote just a few:
Reduces stress: when meditating, our breathing and heart rate naturally slows, our blood pressure – if elevated – falls and our muscles soften. This ‘relaxation response’ described by Dr Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School continues well after a session has ended, and the effect is cumulative if we meditate regularly. Our brain produces dramatically less cortisol, a stress-related hormone, when we meditate. Activity in the amygdala part of our brain, which deals with stress, falls, while the executive functions of our brain thrive. This improves our ability to regulate our emotions, know what to pay attention to, process information, and make decisions.
Lowers high blood pressure and helps treat heart disease. Not only is meditation highly effective at managing ‘the silent killer’ of hypertension, it also slows down the impact of hardening of the arteries and delivers significantly improved ECG performance.
Boosts immunity. Instead of ‘fight and flight’ hormones like adrenalin, our bodies switch into self repair mode when we meditate. Instead, we produce more endorphins, the neurotransmitters needed to protect our bodies against foreign organisms. Ditto melatonin, a powerful anti-oxidant, and DHEA which combats bacterial, parasitic and viral infections.
Slows ageing. Cell longevity has been shown to be promoted by meditation, specifically telomeres activity is significantly higher, there is slower genetic ageing and enhanced genetic repair. One study showed that people who had regularly meditated for 5 years had biological ages 12 years less than their chronological age.
Helps manage chronic pain. Even people who are newcomers to meditation show dramatically improved pain management. One study showed 40% lower pain intensity ratings on MRI scans.
Reduces mortality. Survival rates in residential care homes have been shown to improve substantially among groups of meditators.
Helps people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma are some of the most widespread inflammatory conditions. Meditation not only helps manage their impacts, but can prevent them getting worse.
These are just a few of the physical impacts of meditation. You’ll find much more detail in Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate.
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