Unless you’ve managed to avoid contact with the outside world for the last few decades, it’s likely you’ve heard people rave about the benefits of meditating. Whether it’s your New Agey friend, your doctor, or Oprah Winfrey, someone has probably told you it will change your life.
That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily ready to take up the practice. Some people need to understand the clear and measurable benefits before they agree to spend half an hour or more every day sitting with their eyes closed.
Luckily, research has shown meditation can genuinely boost your health in many ways. You don’t have to be a “spiritual” person to take advantage of it. If you want to know exactly how meditation will change your life, keep the following points in mind.
It Reduces Stress
People who meditate often do so to guard against stress. They stick with it for years because it’s effective. That’s not just a baseless claim. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reviewed dozens of well-designed studies and concluded meditation truly does help to keep stress and anxiety at bay.
This makes sense when you consider what meditation involves. Although there are different forms of meditation, mindfulness is one of the most popular approaches. The goal during a mindfulness meditation session (although some experts would argue meditation isn’t exactly about goals at all) is to pay attention to the current moment without judgment. You can go about it in different ways, but people typically sit in an erect position, eyes closed, and focus solely on the experience of breathing. They don’t try to control anything. When distracting thoughts intrude, they gently return their focus to their breath.
It does take practice. However, it yields major benefits in the long run. Training your brain to focus on the present moment helps you control the kinds of unpleasant thoughts that could otherwise lead to anxiety. Additionally, if you accept the present moment without judgment, you can limit the degree to which unpleasant experiences bother you.
Sometimes life is stressful. When you worry about your circumstances or ruminate (over think or obsess) on them, it just adds to your stress. Meditation helps you avoid this.
It Helps You Sleep
Racing thoughts make it very difficult to get to sleep. If you’re among the 30% of adults who struggle to fall asleep for periods of time, you probably know that.
You might also know that not getting enough sleep is very dangerous. If you’re sleep-deprived, you may be more vulnerable to high blood pressure, anxiety, heart disease, and many more health problems.
This is another good reason to meditate. In one recent study, 49 adults who struggle with sleep problems were separated into two groups. One group participated in six sessions of sleep education. The other group participated in six sessions of a mindfulness program. At the end of the study, the group that underwent mindfulness training reported less insomnia and related problems than the sleep education group. In other words, meditation may be more effective to help you sleep than taking classes literally devoted to that subject.
Again, it’s easy to understand why. Meditation helps you shut out racing thoughts. Falling asleep is much easier when you don’t stress about bills, relationships, or anything else that might keep you up at night.
It Guards Against High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is another common problem that can wreak havoc on your health. People with high blood pressure are at a greater-than-average risk to suffer aneurysms, heart failure, strokes, and a range of other potential consequences.
It’s important to note that meditation alone shouldn’t be the only tool you use to protect yourself from the harmful effects of high blood pressure. You also need to coordinate with your doctor to ensure you take all necessary steps. That said, researchers who have studied meditation’s effects on blood pressure report it can be helpful even in patients who don’t respond to blood pressure medication.
They’re also starting to understand precisely why meditation is so effective. When you meditate, it’s easier to relax. This results in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, reducing pressure on them.
Again, that doesn’t mean you should toss your medication in the trash if you struggle with high blood pressure. You should always speak to your doctor about developing a treatment plan. Meditation, however, could be an essential part of one.
It Keeps You Sharp
Our bodies change as we get older. Many of those changes aren’t exactly positive. For instance, cognitive decline is a common problem among aging people. Sometimes this takes the form of a major condition, such as dementia, but it can also take the form of basic forgetfulness and decreased thinking abilities.
Once more, meditation helps. Over the course of seven years, researchers studied 40 people who meditated regularly. By the end of the study, researchers concluded that meditation offers many long-term benefits, including guarding against age-related cognitive decline. The study participants also displayed general physiological improvements not typically found among people who don’t meditate.
Aging is part of life. However, the problems that come with getting older don’t always have to be. Meditating regularly may help you to stay sharp in old age.
It Helps You Manage Pain
It’s tough to be your best and most productive self when you constantly struggle with discomfort. Chronic pain is a major health issue that significantly impacts your quality of life. As always, if you have chronic pain, you should contact your physician to make sure you treat it properly.
You should also meditate. Many studies have shown that meditation helps people manage their pain for several key reasons. First, meditating regularly helps people pay less attention to their discomfort. This makes it less noticeable. Additionally, studies show that people who meditate have greater activity in areas of the brain associated with pain management. That means it could serve as an effective alternative to pain medications.
These are just a few reasons you should listen to people who bug you to meditate. These days, it’s also easier than ever thanks to apps, streaming videos, and an abundance of books that help you learn the practice.
But caution: meditation may change your life so much you become that friend who tells everyone how much they need it. That’s a small price to pay for all these benefits.
Want more content like this? Sign up here with your email for $20 off any appointment, special deals, and health-related content sent to you on a regular basis.
About Slingshot Health
Slingshot Health is a health tech startup that brings top healthcare providers and patients together. Patients bid on the cost of services and healthcare providers accept bids based on availability. Slingshot Health is unique in that it is a mutual marketplace putting both patients and providers back in control. Visit us at slingshothealth.com.