Research shows meditation can help calm stress and potentially benefit health in multiple ways across your lifespan.
Different types of meditation techniques began in Eastern cultures and go back thousands of years, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Some techniques involve focusing on a mantra (repetition of a chant, word, or prayer). Others are based on mindfulness, which refers to allowing thoughts, feelings, and sensations to arise while you maintain a detached and accepting attitude. Many meditation forms combine several different approaches and often incorporate deep, slow breathing and yoga poses.
Since the l960s, meditation has sparked interest in the West. The popularity of various forms of meditation has soared in the 21st century, across all age groups. In fact, researchers found the percentage of adults who practiced some form of meditation during the previous 12 months tripled between 2012 and 2017, from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent. What’s more, the number of youngsters between the ages of 4 and 17 years who also practiced meditation increased from less than 1 percent in 2012 to almost 6 percent in 2017, the NCCIH reports.
Why have so many people taken up this ancient practice? Research shows those who stick with it for a year or more believe it helps lower stress and improves sleep and general wellness. In recent years, research shows meditation practiced regularly may have many mental and physical health benefits.
Research connecting meditation and health
Many studies of meditation have been relatively small and involved different types of meditation techniques, complicating researchers’ ability to analyze and compare findings. But there is evidence meditation may help some people, especially with stress-related problems, no matter their age.
A case in point: A team of U.S. researchers focused on a mindfulness technique adapted from Zen (a form of Buddhism) and traditional Chinese medicine called “integrative body-mind training” (IBMT). IBMT emphasizes sitting without speaking or moving while monitoring your breathing, focusing on a calming image, and accepting awareness of your body and environment.
The research team looked at the results of only five days of IBMT training on four-year-olds and seniors over 65 in China, along with groups of Chinese and American college students. The results showed they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and less reported anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, no matter their age. The college students who continued to practice IBMT for another 11 hours over the course of a month showed brain changes in areas linked to self-control.
Although more studies are needed, these areas have shown the most promise that meditation does, in fact, benefit your health:
- Mindfulness-based meditation can help relieve anxiety and depression and may work as well as established evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Practicing meditation may improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia about as well as regular exercise.
- Meditation may help with pain relief, but there’s more evidence it could be beneficial if you have chronic, rather than acute, pain.
- Mindfulness meditation practices may help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Meditation can help people increase awareness of feelings and thoughts that trigger cravings for drugs, which can help with recovery from substance abuse.
- Although primarily studied only in women with breast cancer so far, meditation techniques may improve the mental health of people with cancer.
- Studies have suggested possible benefits of meditation and mindfulness programs for weight loss.
February 08, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN