8 Science-Backed Physical Benefits of Meditation for 2022
This is a guest post from Michael Njunge. He is a practicing medical doctor. with a passion for health education. His blog is found at michaelnkw.com
Many people already know about the vast psychological benefits of meditation, however, did you know that there are also profound physical health benefits? Research suggests that those who practice meditation benefit from reduced pain, improved rest, reduction in inflammatory health diseases, and overall better heart health. In this blog post, we will take a look at what the latest science has to say about the physical health benefits of meditation training, and why meditation should be a part of everyone’s self-care.
It is no secret that many people struggle to control their weight. In fact, obesity has tripled since the 1970s, leading to a rise in weight-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Much of the difficulty in treating these diseases is helping people manage their weight.
However, there is now growing evidence to show that meditation can help people control eating behaviors and increase weight loss (1).
It’s thought that meditation helps people become more aware of their eating behaviors and the triggers that lead to overeating. Further, it helps to increase self-control and willpower, both of which are essential for successful weight management.
So if you are struggling to control your weight, consider giving meditation a try. It just might be the key to success. The other key is a good diet, in particular healthy high protein foods that taste great and keep you fuller.
We’re living through a sleep crisis with up to half of all people around the world reporting some level of insomnia. Not getting enough sleep is linked to poor focus, lack of energy, increased mood disorders, and metabolic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
One study showed how practicing meditation improved the length of sleep and reduced anxiety symptoms (2).
And even if you’re not suffering from anxiety, there is evidence to suggest that regular meditation practice can reduce the total amount of sleep you need whilst still feeling refreshed (3).
It’s no wonder that improved sleep quality tops the list when it comes to the most commonly cited benefits of meditation. The way meditation does this is by activating your parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS).
The PSNS triggers a relaxation response that calms the mind, slows your breathing, and relaxes muscles. All of these changes can help you sleep better and for longer. So if you’re looking for a way to improve your sleep, meditation is definitely worth a try.
Stress is a well-known trigger for inflammation. This happens because emotional and psychological distress triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn floods your bloodstream with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
These hormones, in both the short and the long term, can have negative physical health consequences.
Mindfulness meditation has long been proven as an effective stress-reduction tool. But now we finally have research showing how practicing meditation directly has an effect on diseases promoted by stress:
- One day of intense meditation practice has been shown to turn off genes that are responsible for inflammation (4)
- Another study found that people who completed an 8-week meditation course had reduced levels of stress-induced inflammation in the bloodstream (5)
- Practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, can improve symptoms of irritable bowel disease and fibromyalgia (6, 7).
So if you’re looking to reduce stress and potentially reduce the symptoms of inflammatory health conditions, definitely give meditation a shot. Regular practice for just a few minutes every day is enough to see a difference.
A high resting heart rate implies your heart is less efficient and is working harder to pump blood than it should in a healthy person. Studies have repeatedly shown how a high resting heart rate is linked to a higher risk of heart disease (8).
On the other hand, a lower resting heart rate is linked to better heart health as it implies better physical fitness and a stronger heart at a lower risk of things such as heart attack.
The good news is that a lower heart rate is one of the many physical health benefits of meditation. A recent study showed that people who practiced mindfulness meditation had a reduction in their heart rate and breathing rate for up to 8 months after the training (9). This is significant because it shows that mindfulness meditation can have long-term effects on your cardiovascular health.
The way it’s thought that meditation has this beneficial effect on heart rate is 1) meditation reduces stress hormones which would otherwise cause the heart to work excessively hard and, 2) meditation stimulates your PSNS which directly lowers your heart rate.
Remember that blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries and is controlled by two things: 1) your heart pumping and, 2) how wide your blood vessels open.
The higher the blood pressure, the harder the heart has to pump and the more strained it becomes. Over a long period of time, this can lead to heart, brain, and other organ problems.
This is significant as nearly half of all US adults suffer from high blood pressure (10). But luckily for us, meditation has been shown to be a powerful tool to lower blood pressure.
When you meditate, you activate that PSNS and reduce the body’s stress response; this has the effect of lowering your heart rate and relaxing your blood vessels. Both of which lead to lower blood pressure.
A large paper looking at published evidence in the last 30 years shows how mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, have consistently proven themselves as a powerful way of reducing blood pressure (11).
So if you’re struggling to control your blood pressure, why not try meditation? It’s free and risk-free.
Everyone experiences physical pain, it’s a part of the human condition. For some, it is a brief and manageable annoyance. For others, roughly 1 in 5, pain is a chronic and potentially disabling condition (12).
We know that mental and emotional factors play a big role in how we perceive and respond to pain. This is where meditation comes in. It’s thought that mindfulness meditation reduces your sensitivity to pain and increases your ability to cope.
There are many studies showing the power of meditation practice on pain. A few of my favorites include:
- how zen meditation reduces your perception of pain as seen on functional MRI brain imaging (13)
- how meditation was found to be more effective than morphine (14)
- an 8-week mindful meditation course that improved overall mental and physical health by lowering subjects’ depression, anxiety, and chronic pain over a year (15)
While more research is needed to understand the mechanisms at work, there is no doubt that meditation can be a powerful tool in the management of pain.
For women of reproductive age, their menses can be a challenging time that affects their physical and mental health.
It’s already been shown that meditation is great for improving psychological well-being and chronic pain, and now there is evidence it can help with the mental and physical symptoms of menses.
One study showed that women who suffered from menses-related mood disorders reported improved emotional stability and well-being after completing a mindfulness-based stress reduction course (16).
Getting sick sucks. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a free, easy, and healthy way of boosting our immune systems?
Well lucky for us this is exactly another one of the emerging potential health benefits of meditation. A Harvard Medical School study showed that participants who practiced yoga and meditation had cellular changes which were thought to boost immunity and resilience to stress (17).
And a Wisconsin University study found that those who meditated also showed a high immune response to vaccines implying a more robust immune system (18).
This research is very early and much more data is needed before we can draw any hard conclusions, however, it seems promising.
That concludes this post on some of the amazing physical benefits of meditation. Though it may seem like a simple act, it’s clear that mindfulness meditation is a science-backed powerhouse when it comes to our overall health and well-being.
So if you’re looking for a way to improve your physical health, reduce stress, and get better sleep, meditation and mindfulness training may be the answer.
After all, what do you have to lose? The worst-case scenario is that you find some inner peace and calm.
Thanks for reading and happy meditating!