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The Scientific Benefits of Meditation for Your Physical and Mental Health

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It’s easy to become overwhelmed by day-to-day obligations. Juggling work and a social life can feel impossible, leading to a stressful life. Eating well, exercising, and sleeping can begin to feel like chores. An easy addition that won’t carve out massive chunks of your day is practicing a bit of meditation. In recent years more evidence has surfaced about the many benefits of meditation on our physical and mental wellbeing.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a practice intended to encourage a higher level of awareness and attention. It has been exercised since ancient times but has recently started becoming a more talked-about an integral part of wellness.  

According to the National Health Interview Survey of 2017, the number of U.S. adults that meditate has tripled between 2012 and 2017, from 4.1% to 14.2%. Furthermore, the use of meditation among U.S. children ages four to 17 also increased significantly, starting from 0.6% in 2012 to 5.4% in 2017. This goes to show that meditation is being incorporated into our health routines more and more.

Physical Health Benefits

  • Addiction: There is almost always an emotional root of every addiction and the first step in overcoming it is to identify it. Meditation requires you to dig deep into your mind. It will teach you how to create a discerning attitude toward your own thoughts/feelings and contributes greatly to better self-control. Impulsivity plays a big role in addiction so better self-control is an important practice in overcoming it.
  • Insomnia: According to the Sleep Health Foundation, around 1 in 3 people have mild insomnia. If you have trouble sleeping at night, you can improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest through meditation. One study involving 49 middle-aged to older adults who had trouble sleeping revealed that meditation promotes better sleep. The practice helps the participants relax both their body and mind.
  • Boosts the immune system: A recent study in the journal, Translational Psychiatry, found that meditation can boost one’s immune system. “Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself,” said Rudolph Tanzi, one of the researchers.

Mental Health Benefits

  • Anxiety: Almost everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives and many find it hard to control. With mindfulness meditation, a person’s cognitive ability to regulate emotions is strengthened therefore reduces anxiety.
  • Depression: A literature review of 47 trials conducted in 2014 involving 3,515 participants revealed that mindfulness meditation programs show moderate evidence of easing depression. Another study has also discovered that “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” or MBCT, a new method of meditation is effective in helping reduce the chances of a depression relapse after individuals stop their medication.Meditation benefits metaphorically portrayed as a lotus

“One of the key features of depression is that it hijacks your attention,” said Professor Mark Williams, leader of the team that developed MBCT. “We all tend to bring to the forefront of our minds the thoughts and feelings that reflect our current mood. If you are sad, depressed or anxious, then you tend to remember the bad things that have happened to you and not the good. This drives you into a downward spiral that leads from sadness into a deeper depression. MBCT prevents and breaks that spiral.”

  • Stress: When we are exposed to sudden stress, our body undergoes a “fight or flight” response in which our brain releases the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. This release causes an increase in blood pressure.  Meditation is a relaxation technique developed to produce the opposite bodily reaction from the “fight or flight” response. Training our body daily to achieve this state of relaxation can lead to enhanced mood and reduced levels of stress.

Emotional Wellness Benefits

  • Increases productivity: Turns out doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes of the day can help you become more productive. Meditation will sharpen your focus, improve your memory, and increase your capability to multitask. Meditation has been discovered to improve one’s creativity as it stimulates the neocortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for creative thinking, problem-solving, visioning, hypothesizing, and strategizing. Additionally, research has found out that non-meditators had greater cognitive rigidity compared to regular meditators. Cognitive rigidity is the tendency to apply difficult solutions to easy problems.
  • Increases social connection: A few minutes meditation a day can already give a significant impact to one’s feelings of social connectedness.

Bottom line is meditation is good for you. If you feel like you don’t have any time to do it, think of all the time you spend procrastinating on your phone. Replace a mere 10 minutes of that time distracted with meditating so you can strengthen your mental and physical health.

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