How Meditation Improves Physical Health
The Proven Health Benefits of Daily Meditation According to Science
When considering its benefits, most people focus on how meditation can improve mental health. But because body and mind are connected, meditation has great influence over our physical health too.
How Meditation Improves Health
A healthy body is the manifestation of a healthy mind. So practicing peace, ease and joy is a very good place to begin for improved physical health. By reducing stress and emotional turmoil, meditation doesn’t just benefit our mental health, but heals the stress-related cellular damage that contributes to our experience of physical disease and pain. Beyond altering the perception of symptoms, researchers now understand meditation improves health by effecting change in the body on a cellular level. At least one comprehensive review of randomized controlled trials reveals remarkable consistency regarding the influence of mindfulness on inflammation, immunity and gene expression.
Improving those three markers relieves us of chronic stress-related conditions and acts as a preventative by making us more resilient.
Healing Begins With Stress Relief
Meditation’s influence on the body begins with stress relief. Meditation downregulates the sympathetic nervous system, minimizing the release of stress hormones and neurotransmitters that keep us anxious and agitated. Meanwhile, the parasympathetic nervous system is upregulated, which releases beneficial hormones and leads to greater feelings of calm.
Within a quieter, more peaceful state of mind we learn to relate to emotions more mindfully. No longer identified with our emotions nor controlled by them, we’re able to self-regulate and avoid the negative health outcomes related to depression, anxiety and drama. When the mind is at peace, all other systems in the body function more harmoniously, which benefits our physical health. But how does it work? To understand how meditation can improve your health, it’s helpful to understand the connection between stress, inflammation, immune response, and gene expression.
Meditation and 3 Factors for Physical Health
Minimizing stress primarily benefits the body by reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the mechanism by which stress leads to asthma, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease among other illnesses. Inflammation flares auto-immune diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, coeliac and inflammatory bowel disease, and weakens our immune response to acute threats.
Meditation reduces stress-induced inflammation, resulting in relief from both chronic and acute conditions. What’s more, when chronic inflammation is no longer a problem, the immune system is strengthened.
Those who practice meditation consistently have a higher number of circulating antibodies and T-cells than those who don’t. This means their bodies are more capable of quickly identifying and eliminating harmful viruses and bacteria. Studies demonstrate there may even be a dose-response relationship between meditation and immune health. Spend more time on your cushion, and you’ll reap greater physical benefits.
3. Gene Expression
Telomerase activity is another way in which stress, inflammation and immune function are connected. Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes that safeguard genetic information. Stress and age shorten telomeres, the consequences of which are chronic disease and a diminished lifespan. By reducing stress and promoting the release of anabolic hormones meditation preserves telomere length, thereby maintaining healthy gene expression.
Which Practice is Most Beneficial?
Most research studies on the health benefits of meditation focus on the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of observing your present moment with an open-minded curiosity. Everything you notice is treated equally, without attachment or aversion, and allowed to change and pass.
Mindfulness meditation may be the most studied, but it’s not the only type of meditation that has positive health outcomes. Buddhist meditation has been shown to improve vascular health, Insight meditation increases telomere length, and loving-kindness meditation is particularly beneficial for relieving chronic pain. Indeed there are health benefits of compassion too. Whatever type of meditation you practice, if it contributes to peace and wellness in your mind, it will do the same for your body. You can learn more about meditation and its benefits to mind body health with our online course by watching the video below.