People have known for many years that practicing meditation regularly helps relieve the impact of stress on the body, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the effects of anxiety. I’ve mentioned the health benefits of meditation several times here on Ask Dr. Maxwell. I’ve shared how meditation causes the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, to plummet and discussed research showing mindful meditation can help boost your immune system. The good news keeps coming. A number of recent scientific studies reveal new data indicating that in addition to those benefits, meditation offers a promising host of additional aids to maintaining optimal wellness.
4 Newly Understood Benefits of Meditation
Positive Effects on DNA
According to recent research, published in “Frontiers in Immunology,” meditating lowers the genes involved in inflammation and boosts the genes that contribute to stability. In other words, the relaxation your body experiences due to meditation is more than just relaxation. It can, “reverse the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression.” This means the changes you feel during and after meditating go all the way down to your cellular level! More research needs to be done to discover the extent of these effects. Still, this is yet another reason meditation, along with good nutrition and regular exercise, needs to be part of any complete wellness plan.
Better Sleep, Less Fatigue
We’ve known for a long time that meditation increases energy levels. Several new studies show that it also combats insomnia and fatigue. This one from Harvard University focused on mindfulness meditation, focusing on one’s thoughts in the present moment. Study participants experienced less insomnia, fatigue, and depression compared with a control group.
Slower Aging of the Brain
Your brain begins to lose some of its power in your 30s. But according to the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the NIH (National Institute of Health), a number of studies indicate that meditation has the ability to slow down and possibly reverse the changes in the brain that happen due to aging. Meditation can improve memory specifically. Research now shows us that something practitioners of meditation have long suspected: It helps them focus better and remember more readily.
Rewiring of the Brain
You may have heard of neuroplasticity, or “rewiring” your brain. There’s been a lot of hopeful talk about using it for many aspects of life–from weight loss to combatting depression. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to physically change when you learn something new. Years ago people believed once a person reached adulthood, the brain was “set.” It had developed and been wired into a static structure. We now know that the brain stays malleable through life, not just during childhood. The brain is one of your most resilient organs. It can recover from trauma like strokes, injury, and other problems such as addiction.
Recent research shows that mindful meditation can increase the gray matter of your brain. It thickens the hippocampus, the area in charge of memory and learning. It also reduces the area of the amygdala–the part in charge of stress, anxiety, and fear. So, that feeling you get that you’re less stressed all day, calmer, not as worried as you used to be because of meditation turns out to be due to the fact that it’s rewiring your brain for the better.
Meditation, more than ever, is clearly a practice you will want to add to your life, along with good nutrition and regular exercise. Remember to check back with Ask Dr. Maxwell to stay informed on all the best wellness practices and the latest news in integrative medicine.
Photo credit: Daxiao / bigstock.com