11 Proven Health Benefits of Meditation
by Margie King
Green Med Info. 25 February 2016
The ancient practice of meditation is enjoying a resurgence. Its proven health benefits have been discovered by such unlikely advocates as military programs and corporations.
Meditation used to be confined to the mysterious and ascetic world of Buddhist monks. But now meditation is going mainstream.
Military programs incorporate meditation to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. Corporations offer meditation as part of their wellness programs.
Part of the reason for this new popularity of meditation is a wealth of scientific research attesting to its amazing range of healing properties. Here are just 11 proven health benefits of a regular meditation practice.
1. Relieve Chronic Pain
In a randomized study published in The Journal of Pain German researchers compared an 8-week jyoti meditation practice with a home exercise program. Jyoti meditation focuses on a candle flame or lamp, and seeks to feel the light in the heart spreading throughout the body.
In the study 89 patients with chronic neck pain were assigned either to weekly 90-minute jyoti meditation or to a home-based exercise program. The meditation training significantly reduced pain compared to the exercise program. The authors concluded that "meditation may support chronic pain patients in pain reduction and pain coping."
2. Reduce Stress
In a recent small study people who practiced loving-kindness meditation were found to have lower stress levels and lower heart rates. They also had higher levels of nitrates in their blood which helps lower blood pressure. And when non-meditators started a loving-kindness meditation they saw their stress levels fall significantly and their relaxation levels rise significantly.
Loving-kindness meditation is a Buddhist practice of developing compassion, unselfish kindness, and unconditional love for one's self and for others.
3. Slow Aging
Telomeres are protective caps at the end of each strand of DNA. Their length serves as a marker of accelerated aging. Every time a cell divides telomeres get shorter indicating more aging. Harvard researchers measured telomeres in a group of 37 people. They found that women who practiced loving-kindness meditation had significantly longer telomeres than control participants who did not meditate.
One way meditation works is by increasing the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that protects and lengthens telomeres. In a study from the Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis, researchers investigated the effects of a 3-month meditation retreat on telomerase activity. Thirty retreat participants meditated for about six hours per day for 3 months. The control group consisted of 30 people on the wait-list for the retreat center. At the end of the month the telomerase activity in the meditators was significantly greater than in the controls.
The researchers found that telomerase activity was directly and indirectly increased as a result of an increase of perceived control (associated with decreased stress) and a decrease in neuroticism (associated with increased subjective distress) in the retreat participants. The meditators also increased in their mindfulness and sense of purpose in life.
4. Reduce Symptoms of PTSD
A recent study shows that transcendental meditation can relieve PTSD and anxiety disorder. Researchers from the Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Fort Gordon, Georgia looked at 74 active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety disorder. [i]
Half of the service members practiced transcendental meditation in addition to their regular therapies. The other half did not. Transcendental Meditation (TM) doesn't focus on breathing or chanting, like some other forms of meditation. Instead, it encourages a restful state of mind beyond thinking using repetition of a mantra.
After regularly practicing TM, soldiers began to report that they felt less irritable, slept better, and their relationships were improving.
At the end of one month 83.7 percent of the meditators had stabilized, reduced or stopped their psychotropic drugs compared to only 59.4 percent of the controls. Among the meditators only 10.9 percent increased their drugs compared to 40.5 percent of the controls. In addition, the non-meditators experienced about a 20 percent increase in their symptoms compared to the meditators.
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