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Top 12 Health Benefits of Meditation + Mechanisms

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
SelfDecode Science Team | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

Meditation has a long history as a traditional way to reach a sense of peace. In clinical studies, meditation has effectively improved mental health, helped patients deal with stress and pain, and decreased blood pressure. Read on to learn more.

Types of Meditation

  • Vipassana
  • Transcendental
  • Moving Meditation
  • Yoga

Benefits of Meditation

While meditation is extremely safe, alone or alongside conventional therapies, it should never be used in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Possibly Effective For

1) Mental Health

Multiple studies have confirmed that meditation reduces the symptoms of anxiety [1].

A comprehensive meta-study (RCTs) found that meditation lowers anxiety & depression [2].

Meditation can help anxiety symptoms and stress coping mechanisms with those who have generalized anxiety disorders [3].

Meditation is just as effective as medication when it comes to treating depression, pain, and anxiety. What’s more, it can offer long-term benefits [4].

It reduces anxiety by allowing the meditator to retain focus on the present moment [5].

The posterior cingulate cortex is related to increased anxiety while the anterior cingulate cortex reduced anxiety. Through MRI scans, it was found that the anterior cingulate cortex is activated during meditative states [6].

Meditation increased gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri – parts of the brain that are important for regulating empathic response, anxiety, and mood [7].

It only requires brief periods of meditation to enhance mood and minimize distress [8].

Mindfulness meditation is the best form to reduce destructive and uncontrolled thoughts and behaviors that can lead to depression or anxiety [8].

Psychologically speaking, meditation and medication are both effective because they undergo very similar processes. Mindful meditation, like antidepressants, positively impacts objective sleep which leads to more pleasant moods [9].

Those who participate in spiritual forms of meditation, in comparison to secular forms, have a significant increase in positive moods and a reduction of anxiety [10].

Emotional Stability

In one study, participants who meditated had a larger right hippocampus. Since this region is related to emotional control, the authors suggested that meditation enhanced emotional stability and regulation [11].

The more years that you meditate, the folding of the brain (cortical gyrification) increases, which helps to integrate cognitive processing [12].

By activating the angular cingulate cortex, meditation helps with emotional processing [13].

2) Stress

Among 61 healthy adults, those who participated in compassion meditation had, on average, less stress than the control [14].

In 58 volunteers in high-stress health jobs, techniques that derive from meditation improved long-term mental health outcomes [15].

Meditation based practices helped 44 college students cope with stress and encouraged them to be more forgiving [16].

Group meditation helped students to cope with stressful times and gave them a sense of hope [17].

Biologically, meditation affected the subiculum of the hippocampus, which regulates stress [18].

Meditation can be helpful for improving mood and decreasing distress but it’s primarily effective at reducing distracting thoughts [19].

3) Heart Health

Transcendental meditation is believed to be beneficial in heart disease, as it may reduce blood pressure, neck artery thickness, and incidence of heart attacks [20].

In 52 subjects, meditating contemplatively caused a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure [21].

For 127 African Americans aged 55-85, transcendental meditation was much more effective than progressive muscle relaxation for reducing blood pressure [22].

Insufficient Evidence For

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of meditation for any of the below-listed uses. Meditation should never be used in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.

4) Attention Span

Likely because meditating requires focused attention, mindful meditation increased regulation of attention span in 28 volunteers [23].

To enhance attention span, practitioners recommend meditation training for at least four days [24].

Meditating appears to affect the brain in areas that are important for concentration and cognitive processes. On the other hand, it has measurably affected parts of the brain that deal with anxiety, mood, and empathetic responses [7].

In a study of 24 people, meditating sped up thinking and decreased the time it took to respond to a stimulus [25].

People who have experience meditating have increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (facilitated memory processing in REM sleep) and the angular cingulate cortex (deals with organized thoughts) [26].

Meditating can help change the plasticity of the brain. It allows more activity in areas of the brain related to attention and focus and redirects attention in parts of the brain related to distracting thoughts [27].

Meditating not only increases attention but helps neural processes take control of the autonomic nervous system, which deals with involuntary processes in the body (i.e digestion, breathing) [28].

5) Immunity

People who frequently meditate, in comparison to those who don’t, had increased antibody production after the influenza vaccine. Meditation has also produced functional changes to immune cells circulating in the blood [29, 30].

Meditating reduced lipid peroxide levels in the blood, which is indicative of oxidative damage [31].

6) Aging

In one study, meditation promoted longer telomeres (protective end of chromosomes) [32].

Intensive meditation increased telomere activity, indicating less cellular damage and a reduction in oxidative damage in 30 volunteers [33].

In an analysis of 190 total participants, mindful meditation increased telomere activity, potentially promoting health and immune system function [34].

In 37 women, loving-kindness meditation increased telomere length relative to the controls [35].

7) Chronic Illness & Quality of Life

Meditating increased the quality of life and improved physical and mental health. It, therefore, helped to positively benefit people with Multiple Sclerosis (Systematic review) [36].

For those with fibromyalgia, meditating does show moderate improvement in symptoms [37].

Cancer patients who meditated found it easier to deal with the stress that comes with illness [38].

Meditation programs showed effective improvement in symptoms and coping mechanisms in patients with fibromyalgia [37].

8) Inflammation

In 19 subjects, meditation and mindful activities led to increased expression of anti-inflammatory genes [39].

In 40 older adults, mindfulness activities similarly led to decreased expression of inflammatory genes [40].

Meditation not only reduced the expression of inflammatory genes but reduced mental stress in 39 caregivers of patients with dementia [41].

9) Cognitive Function

In 112 volunteers, meditation increased the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, which researchers suggested could makes it less prone to the displacement of age-related thinking (slowing down the process) [42, 43].

This process is associated with greater volumes of gray matter [44, 45] and less cognitive errors than the control group [44].

Researchers have similarly suggested that meditation could have protective effects on the brain by preventing age-related deterioration of gray matter [46].

Meditation reduced activity in the part of the brain dealing with daydreaming and “rewired” the brain to think more in the present [47, 48].

10) Pain

Although meditation was not as effective as behavioral therapy for pain, it did provide an improvement in coping with pain in 92 volunteers [49].

Researchers believe that meditation helped to reduce pain by framing the situation optimistically and mitigating the amount of pain perceived [50, 51, 52].

Meditation significantly helped patients with chronic pain conditions [53, 54]. It alleviated pain for up to 15 months after the conclusion of one study [55].

11) Melatonin

According to one study, advanced meditators have higher levels of serotonin than those who do not meditate. Serotonin also decreased after an hour of meditation, making a drop in serotonin and indicator of rest and relaxation [56].

Meditation increased melatonin levels in the blood; researchers believe that this effect may be responsible for the many health implications that it holds [57].

Meditation helped increased levels of melatonin and, consequently, improved wellbeing [58].

12) Mortality

In a study of 73 elderly subjects, those who had meditated had a greater survival rate over the course of three years [59].

Mechanisms

In various clinical settings, meditation has:

  • Increased ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) function which mediates attention [60].
  • Increased PFC (prefrontal cortex) density, resulting in increased executive function [61].
  • The increased cortical thickness of the Hippocampus, which helps learning and memory information [62].
  • Decreased Amygdala activation of the fight or flight (SNS) system [63].
  • Decreased DMN (default mode network) which causes us to seek pleasure [64].

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine… and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission is to empower people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time. 

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