Though we often recognize our need to maintain our physical health, we don’t realize that we cannot be physically healthy unless we are mentally healthy. Functional Medicine Practitioner William Cole, D.C. prescribes meditation to all of his clients due to the physical and mental benefits meditation offers. Here are 9 ways that meditation promotes mental and physical health.
As a functional medicine practitioner, my days are spent digging into people’s health histories, symptoms, and stories. It’s my job to find out what is working for their body, what isn’t, and identify what’s keeping them from living optimally. Is it the foods they’re eating or the foods they aren’t? Are they exposed to toxins or do they live in a moldy home? Do they have an underlying gut problem, viral infection, hormone imbalance, or are they just staying up too late?
There are some parts of health that I see neglected frequently, and one of them is the mind. In our modern world, we’re often guilty of underestimating the mind-body connection, which can cause big problems. We can eat the healthiest foods in the world, chug kombucha, and throw back wheatgrass shots—but we can’t be truly healthy if we aren’t feeding our mind. What does it serve us if we’re eating organic but serving ourselves toxic thoughts and emotions? This is why I suggest specific meditation practices for just about every patient. Finding a meditation practice that works for them is of the utmost importance. Why, you ask? Well, let’s get geeky and look at the science behind meditation and what makes it so awesome. You’ll see why I prescribe it to almost all my patients:
1. Decreased inflammation.
You’ve heard of NF Kappa B (NFkB) before, right? No, it’s not a fraternity, it’s actually a major source of inflammation and found in just about every chronic health problem we see today. A randomized controlled trial found that meditation can lower NFkB, which means it’s effective at lowering levels of inflammation in the body.
2. Improved immune function.
If you’re feeling run down or always seem to be under the weather, listen up. An Asian Journal of Psychiatry study found that meditation actually positively influences genetic pathways that govern our immune system!
3. Increased longevity.
Are you familiar with telomeres? These little guys are the end-caps to your chromosomes. (Think of them like the plastic ends to shoe strings.) Telomeres play a pivotal role in how we age and how long we live. Basically, the longer your telomeres are, the longer your life expectancy is, and studies suggest that meditation can help preserve our telomeres, which reduces cellular stress and extends life span.
4. Less anxiety.
Many studies have shown meditation to be beneficial in managing anxiety—but how? Well, the posterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that activates when we’re feeling anxious. On the other hand, the anterior cingulate cortex is associated with a reduction in anxiety. MRI scans have shown that meditation activates the calming anterior cingulate cortex, which is pretty cool.
5. Improved mood.
When it comes to mental health, it’s not just anxiety that meditation is good for. Some studies suggest that meditation is just as effective as—if not more effective than—mood-altering medications for depression and anxiety. Moreover, meditation is more sustainable with no side effects! Specifically, meditation has been shown to increase brain gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri. These are the parts of the brain that govern our mood!
6. Better focus and attention.
Do you struggle with wandering thoughts or have ADD-type symptoms? People who regularly meditate tend to have more activityin the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the angular cingulate cortex. In general terms, this means the parts of your brain that process memory and keep your thoughts organized and focused.
7. Less cognitive decline.
Meditation is one of the best ways to improve something called neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout your life. Neuroplasticity naturally decreases as we age, but meditation increases the thickness of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which slows down cognitive decline, preserving neuroplasticity.
8. More stable blood pressure.
A randomized control trial in the medical journal Hypertension found that meditation, specifically transcendental meditation (TM), was very effective at lowering blood pressure.
9. Lower stress levels.
If you’re stressed, raise your hand. OK, well meditation is a natural stress reliever and there’s not just some “woo-woo” or esoteric reason behind it. Meditation positively regulates the subiculum area of the hippocampus, which regulates stress. No crystals needed.
How long do you have to meditate to reap these rad benefits? Studies vary, but one Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study found that about 2.5 hours of meditation practice per week produced consistent health benefits. That’s only about 21 minutes each day! Think of all the time we waste scrolling through social media, reading emails, or texting. Dare I say that we all have 21 minutes to spare in honor of our health?
Want to start meditating but aren’t sure where to begin? Try our Meditation Expert’s 14-Day Guide.