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14 Science-Backed Reasons to Practice Meditation

There are hundreds of benefits to practicing meditation. Here are the top 14 scientific reasons to practice meditation:

1. Reduces stress and anxiety.

Rates of anxiety and depression are increasing based on hundreds of studies. Globally, one in 6 people have at least one mental or substance abuse disorder, with anxiety ranked #1. In the US, more than one third of Americans have displayed clinical signs of anxiety or depression since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A few days of meditation increased activity in the parts of the brain that process stress-related reactions. Mindfulness-based Stress Relaxation (MBSR) techniques reduce the stress hormones and make us more vigilant and self-aware. One study suggests that meditation can cut back on anxiety as much as 40%. And it doesn’t take much time.

Making mindfulness meditation a habit for only a few days can reduce overall anxiety. In a 2015 study of 133 stressed, unemployed adults, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, a three-day intensive mindfulness meditation training intervention showed reduced activity in participants’ amygdala, the brain region that triggers the release of stress hormones.

Meditation improves anxiety levels 60% of the time. After meditating for 6–9 months, almost two-thirds of those prone to anxiety managed to reduce their anxiety levels. (Link to study 1. Link to study 2.)

2. Lowers depression.

Inflammatory chemicals, otherwise known as cytokines, are released in response to stress. They can affect our mood and lead to depression. A review of several studies (study 1, study 2, study 3) suggests meditation may reduce depression by reducing cytokines. Studies on depressed individuals showed that incorporating meditation to their other depression management strategies eased their symptoms of loneliness and down mood. A study by Filip Raes on 400 adolescent students in Belgium showed that when they participated in mindful meditation programs, they had a noticeable reduction in depression, negative thinking, and stress for up to six months after the training.

2. Boosts energy and productivity.

A Harvard Medical School study analyzed changes that happened during mindfulness meditation for both novices and experienced practitioners. The study found that just one session of mindfulness meditation caused quick and enhanced expression of genes linked to energy metabolism, mitochondrial function and insulin secretion, as well as decreased expression of genes related to inflammation and stress. Scientists concluded that mindfulness practices have important health implications by promoting “mitochondrial resiliency.”

3. Increases happiness.

Research shows that meditation has the ability to increase your happiness baseline.

4. Relieves pain and headaches.

A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness may make it easier to cope with chronic pain. John Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a pioneer in the field, conducted research in the 1980s on the effects of using mindfulness-based training to treat chronic pain. More recently, a 2017 study  showed mindfulness meditation led to a small decrease in chronic pain in patients.

Mindfulness meditation helped people with back pain improve their ability to do daily tasks by 30%.  In a randomized clinical trial in 2016 from University of Washington, Seattle, researchers found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (8 weeks of once-a-week training in mindfulness meditation and yoga) resulted in significantly greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations at 26 weeks than usual care (prescription opioids, etc.). About 44% of participants doing the MBSR training reported significant pain reduction vs. 27% of those undergoing usual care/prescription painkillers, etc. Link to study.

5. Supports the immune system

Research shows meditation is linked to fewer respiratory illnesses, faster recovery and requiring fewer sick days from work.

Studies on the impact of meditation on lowering the risk of cancer suggest that mindful relaxation and meditation practices boost the lymphocyte count in the body, and help in developing a natural shield for fighting toxic cells that lead to cancer. The findings of this study also provided evidence on how meditation can make us more resistance to infections and illness. Meditation improves physical health by boosting immune functions, regulating hormones and reducing inflammation.

While practicing mindfulness isn’t a surefire way to prevent sickness, it may play a role in boosting brain and immune function, according to results of this study. Researchers led an eight-week study measuring brain electrical activity before and after mindfulness meditation training, with both test and control groups receiving a flu vaccine afterward. They found significant increases in antibodies among those in the meditation group, as well as increased activity in the left side of the brain.

6. Builds relationships and communication

In one study, meditators who tried to solve a problem with their partner approached the issue with more calm and ease.

While stress narrows your perspective and that of your team, and reduces empathy, negatively impacting performance, meditation can help boost your mood and increase your sense of connection to others, even make you a kinder and more compassionate person.

7. Improves sleep

Results from this study show that deep relaxation techniques like meditation improves sleep at night, including duration and quality.

In this study, the majority of people with insomnia who meditated daily were able to fall asleep faster. In fact, 75% of them only needed about 20 minutes to fall asleep. In this study, 91% of insomniacs lessened or completely stopped use of sleeping medication. 

Practicing mindfulness can help you to clock better sleep according to results of a 2015 clinical trial published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The trial tested 49 older adults (with a mean age of 66.3 years) experiencing moderate to great sleep disturbances (such as insomnia) before and after going through a structured mindfulness meditation program. 

8. Builds resilience

Several research studies have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby boosting resilience and performance under stress.

9. Helps focus and attention span

Research has shown that our minds have a tendency to wander about 50% of the time. Add in work interruptions, text messages, texts, phone calls, and emails, and it’s no surprise that we have a hard time staying focused. But studies show that meditation training can help curb our tendency for distraction, strengthening our ability to stay focused and even boosting memory. This study shows just 4 days of meditation practice can improve attention span.

Reaping the benefits of mindfulness meditation takes less time than you might expect. Practicing mindfulness for just 20 minutes a day for four days significantly increased cognitive efficiency (i.e., the ability to think clearly) on tasks that required sustained attention in 63 college students who had never practiced mindfulness previously, according to this study.

Mindfulness may also help you to shift your thinking among multiple concepts with greater ease. A 2009 study in Consciousness and Cognition compared a group of Buddhists experienced in mindfulness meditation with non-meditators, finding that the first cohort performed significantly better on all measures of focused attention via timed written tests.

10. Lowers blood pressure.

Meditation may lower blood pressure 80% of the time. According to meditation stats, 80% of them lowered their blood pressure and needed less medication thanks to meditation. Additionally, 16% of them were able to stop taking their medications for hypertension. (Meditation 24-7)

This study backed up what was previously largely anecdotal evidence that mindfulness can help to reduce hypertension (a high risk factor for heart disease) in adults. The results of a trial of 48 participants—80 percent of whom had hypertension—showed that practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction could influence the behavioral underpinnings of this disease by improving participants’ self-regulation (i.e., the ability to avoid overeating) and enhancing their self-awareness and attention control. The results were long-lasting: An assessment one year later showed participants’ blood pressure remained lower than the baseline taken at the start of the study.

11. Improves problem-solving and decision-making

Researchers agree that an effective way for people to increase the likelihood of success is to meditate as a part of their daily routine. Studies have revealed that both transcendental and mindfulness meditation practices improve the brain’s problem-solving and decision-making strategies, which can bring a desirable shift in our personal and professional lives. 

12. Increases emotional intelligence and empathy.

Research suggests that meditation helps strengthen the ability to regulate emotions.

Multiple studies (study 1, study 2) have shown that mindfulness meditation practice improves overall levels of empathy. In the latter study, scientists researched the effects of psychotherapists practicing loving-kindness and compassion-based meditation. They found both helped them generate more empathy toward clients and lessened the negative effects associated with empathy for pain.

13. Enhances creativity.

Research on creativity suggests that we come up with our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. That is when we have “eureka” moments. This is likely because meditation encourages divergent thinking (i.e., coming up with the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem), a key component of creativity.

14. Makes you feel like you’re on vacation.

Meditation and taking a vacation appear to have similar effects. One study found that 15 minutes of meditation led to similar emotional states as a day of vacation: low levels of uncomfortable emotions like irritation and high levels of positive feelings like gratitude. 

BOOST YOUR ENERGY

With this short, simple (and free!) guided meditation.