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4 Scientifically Proven Ways That Meditation Can Improve Your Health

We've been told meditation is good for us and now modern research gives us scientific proof of the ways that meditation can improve your health.

We live in an age of exponentially progressive science and technology. And we have the culture of wanting physical proof that something works. Show me the evidence! Meditation has been a practice reported as far back as 3000BC and has been associated not only with ancient civilizations such as in Egypt and China but also with a number of religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. But it’s only been with the advent of modern research that the West has become more accepting of a practice that even just twenty years ago may have been considered a bit too bohemian. A lot of research has gone into understanding the benefits of meditation and we now have scientifically proven ways that meditation can improve your health.

When you really think about it, it’s hard to dispute that the mind and the body are inextricably linked. When our minds are in a good place, our bodies feel better, more vibrant, even more beautiful. When we feel stressed, our bodies get heavier, aches and pains get amplified, we’re more prone to ‘coming down’ with other ailments.

Meditation is an amazing tool to keep your mind in a good place as much as possible. Of course, we can’t feel on top of the world every second of every day, but each step towards learning to lift our emotions, reduce anxiety and fear, embrace gratitude and possibility, is a step towards a healthier physical body.

There is a misconception that meditation is just about sitting and doing nothing. And yes, whilst physical stillness is a necessity for effective meditation, it is whilst the body is made quiet that the mind is undergoing active training. Without the sensory distractions and interference of the body, meditation is the space to hone the six-pack of your mind, to chisel your thinking. 

Here is some scientific proof about the power of meditation that might just blow your mind away.

Woman meditating during sunset

1. Increases neuroplasticity

The ability to focus and stop the mind from wandering is a key ingredient in achieving what you want. While you may not want to be a billionaire, the likes of Oprah, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett have all cited focus as a major ingredient in their success. The human mind has a tendency to wander. Nearly up to 50% of the time!

Research has also shown that minds which spend a lot of time bouncing around from thought to thought are associated with decreased levels of happiness and greater anxiety. 

Regular meditation helps reduce this aimless activity by quietening down the default wandering network in our brain and laying down new neural pathways that make it easier to snap out of unfruitful wandering. In particular, meditation stimulates cortical thickening in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in executive function including focus, control, self-restraint and complex decision making. 

2. Offers protection from DNA damage

Research has shown that meditators have a more favourable balance of chemical reactions that target DNA and affect gene expression. In particular, meditation affects DNA sites that code for genes involved in ageing and immunity. So, meditation can not only protect us from infection, it may also help us remain more youthful. 

Other studies have supported similar effects of regular meditation slowing the biological clock. Small proteins called telomeres behave like the hem lines at the ends of chromosomes, keeping the genetic information in top notch condition. As a cell divides and replicates to produce new versions of itself, the hemming gradually becomes frayed, the telomeres get shorter, maybe even become undone. As a result, the quality of the new cells we make is not as great as the original version. Meditation protects our telomeres from fraying thereby slowing down ageing.

The limbic system of the brain

3. Improves mental health and memory

The limbic system is the part of our brain that deals with emotions and memory. There are four structures that make up the limbic system; the hypothalamus, the thalamus, the hippocampus and the amygdala. The latter two structures have been shown to change in people who meditate regularly. The hippocampus plays a crucial role in learning and memory while the amygdala is involved in processing memories, decision-making and emotional responses especially fear.

People who have experienced traumatic childhoods have been found to have larger amygdala which means they may experience fear more often. Studies have shown that regular meditators have less activity in the right amygdala, the flight or fight centre of the brain, meaning that regular meditators experience less fear and anxiety.  Mindfulness practices also increase the volume of the hippocampus, improving learning and memory. 

4. Lowers blood pressure

A number of studies have shown that meditation reduces blood pressure by lowering cortisol levels, the main stress hormone, whilst at the same time increasing the levels of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. More of both of these improves confidence and reduces anxiety and depression. People who meditate regularly have also been found to have higher levels of melatonin which aids sleep.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease which is the number one cause of death globally. Meditation can literally save your life.

There is abundance of ongoing research into the full scale of benefits meditation can confer to our physical and mental health, from reducing over-reactions by our immune system, to reducing chronic inflammation, to modulating our pain pathways, to preventing Alzheimer’s and even improving fertility. But research takes time. The proof you’re looking for might not be evident on paper for a while yet. But why not give it a go and start meditating. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. After all, there must be some magic to a practice that has survived since the time of ancient civilization.

If you have anything you want to ask, or if there’s a topic you’d like me to write about just let me know.

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