10 Surprising Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Meditation
Meditation has been practiced for centuries, but it’s something that science knows surprisingly little about. We didn’t really begin to study the effects of meditation seriously until the 21st century. The good news is meditation is being studied more and more. The more science learns about the benefits of meditation, the more popular meditation becomes across the globe. A practice that may not have been taken seriously in the past is now being looked at as a viable holistic healing practice.
Here are ten surprising facts you probably didn’t know about meditation.
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Meditation reduces stress
According to integrative medicine experts, stress reduction is one of the most important benefits of meditation. Stress goes hand in hand with depression, anxiety, and insomnia because it triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol also triggers the production of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines. Inflammation is a major factor in chronic pain and disease, so keeping it as low as possible is crucial.
Meditation can slow down or prevent some neurodegenerative diseases
Meditation is an amazing stress reducer, and it turns out that reducing stress through meditation can slow down neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies show that meditation slows the progression of these disorders after just eight weeks, and it may prevent the onset of these issues in people who practice regularly.
Meditation can help lower your blood pressure
Meditation helps you relax which triggers the production of nitric oxide in the brain to lower blood pressure. Patients who participated in meditation regularly for three months may even reduce their blood pressure enough to decrease the amount of medication they have to take.
Meditation can improve your memory
Mindful meditation has been practiced for centuries by various cultures all over the globe who claim it can improve memory, and it turns out they were right. Science has proven this effect over and over again in recent decades. In fact, a 2005 study conducted by neuroscientists at the Harvard Medical School was the first to confirm that meditating regularly leads to an increase in cortical thickness of the brain. In a later study, it was also discovered that those who practice mindful meditation for 30 minutes each day have an increase in the gray matter of the hippocampus after only eight weeks. This is the part of the brain that controls learning and memory.
Meditation improves neuroplasticity in the brain
According to research conducted at the University of Wisconsin by neuroscientist Richard Davidson, people who meditate regularly have higher levels of gamma wave activity, which gives them better control of their thoughts and reactivity. Studies also show that higher gamma wave levels also improve neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt to environmental input, both structurally and functionally.
Meditation can be more effective than prescription painkillers
Meditation calms the somatosensory cortex in the brain. It also triggers activity in other parts of the brain. This effect can decrease the intensity of pain by 40%. When compared to prescription painkillers, they were only able to reduce pain by 25%. In addition, people who meditate regularly also have a higher pain tolerance than those who don’t.
Meditation can help you make decisions easier
You may be surprised to find that practicing meditation regularly can help you make decisions more easily. People who meditate often have higher amounts of gyrification or folding in the cortex of the brain. The creates additional surface area which enhances neural processing and supports decision making. It may also improve the way the brain performs in other areas, too.
How often you meditate is more important than how long you meditate
Many people think that meditation requires a major time commitment to be effective, but that’s not the case at all. Consistent meditation for short periods is all it takes to achieve notable improvements. Ten to twenty minutes a day is enough to give your body some protection against stress and help you stay grounded and focused.
Meditation can improve heart health
It turns out that the brain isn’t the only part of the body that shows improvement with regular meditation. According to the publication Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, meditation can play a significant role in boosting heart health, too. In their long-term study that took place over five years, participants who chose to meditate regularly had a 48% reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. More research is needed in this area, but early findings are very promising.
Meditation can improve your attention span
Teachers are beginning to catch on to the benefits of meditation for improving the attention span. Meditation is now being taught in classrooms across the country, as well as by individuals who want to improve their focus and stay on task for longer periods. Regular meditation can also improve your ability to recall details, too.
And finally, meditation can make you kinder
If you’re still not convinced, we’ve got one more great reason to practice meditation. It actually improves the feeling of social connectedness with strangers and even makes you feel more loving and kind. A 2008 study by the American Psychological Association showed that meditation reduces brain inflammation by decreasing cytokines. Similar to its effects on reducing anxiety and stress, it also increases feelings of kindness and love in the brain. Pretty cool, huh?
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