Meditation Slows Aging
A UCLA study found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Those who’d been meditating for ~20 years had more gray matter volume throughout the brain (literally, more brain cells) — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators.
Other studies have also shown that meditation changes brain physiology to slow aging. “Cognition seems to be preserved in meditators,” says Sara Lazar, a researcher at Harvard University. Lazar adds that meditators also have more gray matter, as seen in the UCLA study. Another study conducted by Elizabeth Hoge, Lazar’s colleague, showed that meditators also have longer telomeres, which are the caps on chromosomes that indicate biological age (rather than chronological age).
Meditation Improves Concentration and Attention
Millions of people, including children and adults, have trouble concentrating. Not surprisingly, improved concentration and attention is one of the main benefits of meditation. One study found that just 2 weeks of meditation training improved individuals’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE (the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points).
Meditation Reduces Depression and Anxiety
A Johns Hopkins study examined the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. While this number may seem low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressant medications is also 0.3, which suggests that meditation can be just as effective as prescription drugs. After all, meditation is an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation, versus only focusing on your breathing, can reduce anxiety, and has also been shown to help people who suffer from social anxiety disorder.
Meditation Reduces Mind-Wandering
One Yale University study found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. The DMN is “on” or active when our minds are wandering from thought to thought, not thinking about anything specific. It’s best to limit mind-wandering since it is typically associated with being less happy. A number of studies have shown that meditation is able to minimize this by having a quieting effect on the DMN. In addition, when the mind does start to wander, meditators are more easily able to snap out of it because of the new connections that form.
Meditation Increases Happiness
Studies show that meditation increases brain signaling in the part of the brain that is responsible for positive emotions (left side of the prefrontal cortex), while activity decreases in the right side, which is responsible for negative emotions. Meditation also boasts many other benefits that contribute to a sense of overall well-being, including increased self-awareness and acceptance.
Meditation Benefits Cardiovascular and Immune Health
Meditation induces relaxation, which subsequently increases the compound nitric oxide that makes blood vessels open up, causing blood pressure to drop. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that 40 out of 60 high blood pressure patients were able to stop taking their blood pressure medication after they began a regular meditation practice.
Meditation Can Help with Addiction
Numerous studies have shown that meditation has significant positive effects on the self-control regions of the brain, which can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of addiction.