Health benefits of meditation

“For a long time, meditation was considered a spiritual or religious practice, but we’ve found it extends far beyond that. It can elicit a physiological response in people who meditate regularly,” says Jacob Manjooran, MD, a board-certfied psychiatrist at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center. 

The Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal has published studies reporting that meditation can cause significant neurological changes in the brain that indicate an increased level of introspection, awareness, response control and compassion. In short, long-term meditation can actually change your brain structure and the way you think. 

The benefits of meditation are far reaching, and the research is ongoing, but here are some notable ways meditation can improve your health:

• Anxiety and depression: Meditation can decrease anxiety, stress and depression while increasing emotional regulation, awareness, self-control, happiness and social connections. 

“It’s the best relaxation technique that can be learned and mastered. For people dealing with anxiety and depression, meditation can be so beneficial that it feels like a spiritual experience,” Manjooran said.

• Memory, cognition and attention: A 2011 study published in Psychiatry Research journal found that meditation can increase the density of gray matter in areas of the brain that govern learning, memory and perspective taking.

• Pain management and cancer treatment: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, found that meditation can help control pain without using the brain’s naturally occurring opiates to do so.

The Society for Integrative Oncology also recommends meditation in part of a multidisciplinary approach for cancer patients to help reduce their symptoms, including pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

• High blood pressure and heart health: Meditation is proven to help lower blood pressure for patients with high blood pressure and people who have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, especially teens. 

It’s also suggested to help lower resting heart rate, reduce the thickening of coronary arteries in hypertensive adults and even reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)and ulcerative colitis: Some studies have suggested that meditation can reduce the severity of symptoms for IBS and ulcerative colitis patients. 

• Immune system: Meditation can help strengthen and regulate the immune system by reducing the chemical identifiers of inflammation. It can also reduce stress-induced inflammation and other types of chronic inflammation that contribute to disease.