Studies suggest meditation can significantly improve our health both mentally and physically by reducing the harmful effects of stress on our body.
“When the mind worries, it causes activation of our stress system that has a cumulative negative effect over time and makes us more susceptible to poor health and disease,” says Dr Craig Hassed, coordinator of mindfulness programs at Monash University.
“Meditation and mindfulness practices have been found to have the opposite effect on the body by counteracting these negative physiological effects of stress,” he says.
Here, we explore the top five science-backed reasons to meditate.
But a review of research into the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on the immune system suggests it may lower levels of C-reactive protein, a blood marker for inflammation, and increase a number of key immune system helper cells, which destroy infection and help to prevent us from getting sick.
However, a recent study found that after an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, the amygdala in meditators had shrunk.“After a couple of weeks of meditating people often say ‘I’m not as reactive to stressful situations as I was a few weeks ago’ and that’s because of these brain changes,” says Dr Hassed.
In one study published in the journal Neuropsychobiology participants of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program had a small but significant increase in these higher executive functions after two months.It seems regular meditation can change the parts of the brain in charge of executive functioning. For example, research that examined brain scans of regular meditators found increased thickness of the prefrontal cortex, an important region for learning, planning and problem-solving and increased grey matter concentration in the hippocampus, a memory centre of the brain, when compared with the brains of non-meditators.
In a study by scientists at Harvard University, researchers compared the telomere length of experienced practitioners of a kind of meditation called loving-kindness (LKM). They found longer telomeres in meditators when compared with non-meditators, indicating a slower rate of cellular ageing.“Meditation switches on the repair enzyme telomerase to slow down the rate of ageing,” says Dr Hassed.
A Journal of Obesity study that examined weight loss in overweight women found that women who meditated half an hour a day and practised mindful eating, maintained their weight, while those who didn’t continued to gain weight.
Take this advice on board and you could be well on the way to unlocking the power of your body-mind connection