By: Matthew Thorpe.
Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns and even increased pain tolerance.
This article reviews 12 health benefits of meditation.
1. Reduces Stress
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation.
One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.
Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines.
These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
In an eight-week study, a meditation style called "mindfulness meditation" reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
Another study in nearly 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation may decrease stress. Notably, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress (3Trusted Source).
Research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks.
Another study followed up with 18 volunteers three years after they had completed an eight-week meditation program. Most volunteers had continued practicing regular meditation and maintained lower anxiety levels over the long term.
A larger study in 2,466 participants also showed that a variety of different meditation strategies may reduce anxiety levels.
For example, yoga has been shown to help people reduce anxiety. This is likely due to benefits from both meditative practice and physical activity.
Meditation may also help control job-related anxiety in high-pressure work environments. One study found that a meditation program reduced anxiety in a group of nurses.
Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults.
One study followed 18 volunteers as they practiced meditation over three years. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.
Another controlled study compared electrical activity between the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation and the brains of others who did not.
Those who meditated showed measurable changes in activity in areas related to positive thinking and optimism.