What are the health benefits of meditation?

Between the responsibilities of work and your personal life, you’re stressed to the max. Could you benefit from taking a few minutes to meditate?

The constant go-go-go of today’s world can have major effects on our health. While a small amount of stress can be a good thing — motivating us to take risks and overcome our fears — too much stress can be dangerous.

As stress builds up, it can lead to what’s known as “stress overload,” which causes us to feel overly tired and lose the ability to focus. Beyond that, when you experience too much stress, your body may react in a variety of ways, leading to insomnia, headaches, back pain and other physical symptoms.

Over time, those symptoms, combined with stress, can make you more likely to develop any of a variety of conditions, including heart disease and stroke.

So, how can you ease that stress?

The basic principles of healthy living are an important place to begin. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet filled with fruits and veggies and lean protein, don’t smoke, limit your alcohol consumption and get plenty of sleep.

But meditation can also help. Let’s take a look at how meditation can benefit health.

The health benefits of meditation: Reduces stress

This health benefit is the biggest, and it alone lowers your risk of many medical conditions.

A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation helps reduce psychological stress. In addition, it can help boost mood and improve eating habits and quality of life.

The health benefits of meditation: Boosts attention span

This one makes sense! If you can clear your mind of thoughts for a length of time, it seems logical that you’d be able to focus better.

Studies have found that once you begin meditating, you gradually increase the strength and endurance of your attention span. That means you’ll be less likely to have your mind wander or find yourself worrying aimlessly during the day.

The health benefits of meditation: Limits memory loss

Keeping your mind active is one key way of limiting memory loss as we age. Research has shown that meditating, particularly a form called Kirtan Kriya, is one way of doing just that.

Not only can meditating be effective in preventing memory loss, but it’s also been shown to be effective in improving memory among those diagnosed with dementia.

The health benefits of meditation: May help fight addiction

In many who are dealing with addiction of any type, self-control and mental discipline are in limited supply. But meditation can help change that.

The act of meditating has been shown to help increase self-control by allowing people to redirect their attention and control their emotions.

The health benefits of meditation: Improves sleep

Insomnia and other sleep difficulties are common among the American population, and many people find it difficult to wind down to sleep.

Meditation can help alleviate that, allowing you to clear the mind, relax and drift off to sleep. That’s because it helps redirect thoughts and anxieties, which are often the cause of insomnia.

The health benefits of meditation: Decreases blood pressure

This goes hand-in-hand with stress relief. Excess stress is a common risk factor for high blood pressure, so using meditation to alleviate stress can help lower your risk.

One study found that the actual act of meditating using a silent mantra reduced blood pressure by several points. It appears that meditating relaxes nerve signals in the body that control heart function, which helps lower blood pressure.

The health benefits of meditation: Controls anxiety

While meditation isn’t likely to completely alleviate anxiety, stress and anxiety often appear together. So, if you’re lowering stress levels, you often can better manage your anxiety, too.

A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that regularly meditating can help reduce anxiety and the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

The health benefits of meditation: Helps manage illness

Much like mentioned above with anxiety, using meditation to lower stress levels has been shown to help when battling other illnesses, as well.

Meditation has been shown to help manage the symptoms of asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, IBS and headaches, among other conditions.

Putting meditation into action

Want to reap the benefits, but aren’t sure how to get started?

Erlanger Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy services offers 10 minutes of silent or guided meditation led by spiritual care staff every Monday at 12 PM in the chapel at Erlanger Baroness Hospital.

Alternatively, there are many different courses and online guides to step you through the basics. You can even find apps that will help you focus your mind and breathing for a set length of time.

Insight Timer is a great, free app to help you get started. So, find your happy spot and give it a try!

Is too much stress overwhelming you and causing health issues? Talk with your doctor. Find a doctor here.