With everything that’s going on with the world plus our own personal problems, it’s easy to get lost in our tracks. We tend to forget to breathe, rest, and take care of ourselves. Many people have their ways of coping with their fast-paced lives - some would take a vacation, leave a toxic environment, focus on self-care, and more. But, if you are looking into a long-term solution, some highly recommend meditating.
Meditation is all about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. Instead of shutting down our thoughts and feelings, this practice teaches you to observe those without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well. Learning to meditate is just like learning any other skill. One must commit to consistent practice to get comfortable. It is used to develop mindfulness, increase relaxation, and promote calmness.
Previous studies have shown that meditation may reduce blood pressure, relieve pain, lower the risk of depression, and enhance overall well-being. Thus, it’s not surprising that meditation has already hit the mainstream. TheGoodBody.com, an online site that reviews, case studies, insights and analysis for health products, equipment and gadgets, reported that between 200 to 500 million people meditate around the world. Since 2012, the number of people practicing meditation has tripled. Women are more likely to meditate than men with 16% and 12%, respectively. Of all age groups, the 45-65 age group was reported to meditate the most with 16%, followed by 18 to 44 and more than 65 years old both at 13%.
A 2016 study revealed that general wellness is the number one reason why people meditate. This is followed by improving energy (60%), aid memory and focus (50%), anxiety relief (29%), stress relief (22%), and depression relief (18%). About 60% of people who answered the survey reported that meditation helped them significantly. It was also reported that the meditation market is growing. In 2015, the meditation and mindfulness industries are thought to have earned $1 billion.
Scientifically Proven Benefits of Meditation
Multiple studies have shown that practicing meditation can have positive impacts on our bodies. It can even relieve back pain issues. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that the practice helped people with back pain improve their ability to do daily tasks by 30%. It has benefits for hypertensive patients as well. A study showed that 80% of participants lowered their blood pressure and needed less medication due to meditation, while 16% of them were able to stop taking their medications for hypertension.
Meditation can also help you address issues you have with your body. A study conducted by researchers Ellen R. Albertson, Kristin D. Neff, and Karen E. Dill-Shackleford concluded that the practice increases body satisfaction among women. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, women were divided into two groups: a meditation intervention group and a control group.
Those who belonged in a meditation intervention group received three-week self-compassion meditation training. The findings showed that women in this group “experienced a significantly greater reduction in body dissatisfaction, body shame and contingent self-worth based on appearance, as well as greater gains in self-compassion and body appreciation” compared to the control group.
A 2010 study published in the Consciousness and Cognition Journal found out that even short mindfulness training may improve cognitive abilities. The researchers assigned 24 people in the intervention group, where they received four sessions of mindfulness meditation training. Meanwhile, the control group had 25 people who listened to an audiobook. While both groups reported an improved mood, only meditation training reduced fatigue and anxiety and increased mindfulness.
“Our findings suggest that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators,” the researchers said.
Do People Who Meditate Age More Slowly?
There’s a growing body of evidence that shows regular meditation can slow aging, at least at the cellular level. A great way to better understand this is to study telomeres, the DNA and protein caps that protect the ends of each chromosome during cell division. According to The Guardian, having shorter telomeres in a person’s cells is linked with the onset of many age-related diseases, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. A previous study found that there’s been an increased telomere length in the immune cells of people after they took part in an intensive meditation retreat.
To better understand this, researchers from the University of Zaragoza conducted a study to measure the length of telomeres of people who have been practicing Zen meditation for an hour or more a day for at least 10 years and those who have never meditated. The 2016 study suggested that highly experienced Zen meditators have longer telomeres on average than people of a similar age and lifestyle. The researchers stated that having longer telomeres means that these people have greater mindfulness skills, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness.
The American Society on Aging stated that the human brain usually shrinks an average of 5% per decade after age 40. But UCLA neuroscientist Eileen Luders found out that meditators show less an age-related decline in the thickness of their brain’s cerebral cortexes, the density and functionality of their brain white matter (axonal tracts connecting different regions of the brain), and the volume of their brain gray matter (neuronal cell bodies, dendrites, and synapses).
A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard Medical School found more evidence suggesting that meditating daily may slow brain aging. This time, the team focused on one person - a 41-year-old Buddhist Tibetan monk named Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. According to Medical Xpress, a health and medical news source which also publishes articles about the recent developments in the healthcare industry, Rinpoche has practiced meditation nearly every day of his life, demonstrated an above-average ability to meditate, and graduated to teaching the practice to others many years ago.
The researchers compared the MRI brain scans of Rinpoche with a control group consisting of 105 other adults from the local area who were near in age to the monk. Using an AI system called the Brain Age Gap Estimation (BrainAge) framework, the team was able to find out that the monk’s brain is aging at a slower rate than the control group.
These studies show that meditation not only brings people positive impacts but also gives them a longer, fulfilling life.