Five Science-Backed Reasons Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health

An excerpt from Five Science-Backed Reasons Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health

Ask a group of people why they meditate and you’ll get a list of replies as varied as the people you’re asking—generally, the reason will have something to do with each individuals’ idea of the best, most-fulfilled (dare we say happier) version of themselves.

In recent decades, researchers have been gaining insight into the benefits of practicing this ancient tradition. By studying more secular versions of mindfulness meditation, they’ve found that learning to pay attention to our current experiences and accept them without judgment might indeed help us to be happier. Studies to date suggest that mindfulness affects many aspects of our psychological well-being—improving our mood, increasing positive emotions, and decreasing our anxiety, emotional reactivity, and job burnout.

But does mindfulness affect our bodies as well as our minds?

Recently, researchers have been exploring this question—with some surprising results. While much of the early research on mindfulness relied on pilot studies with biased measures or limited groups of participants, more recent studies have been using less-biased physiological markers and randomly controlled experiments to get at the answer. Taken together, the studies suggest that mindfulness may impact our hearts, brains, immune systems, and more.

Though nothing suggests mindfulness is a standalone treatment for disease nor the most important ingredient for a healthy life, here are some of the ways that it appears to benefit us physically.

Mindfulness is good for our hearts

Those who learned mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who learned progressive muscle relaxation, suggesting that mindfulness could help people at risk for heart disease by bringing blood pressure down.

Mindfulness may decrease cognitive decline from aging or Alzheimer’s

In a 2016 study, people with Alzheimer’s disease engaged in either mindfulness meditation, cognitive stimulation therapy, relaxation training, or no treatment, and were given cognitive tests over two years. While cognitive stimulation and relaxation training seemed to be somewhat beneficial in comparison to no treatment, the mindfulness training group had much more robust improvements on cognitive scores than any other group.

Mindfulness may improve your immune response

When we encounter viruses and other disease-causing organisms, our bodies send out troops of immune cells that circulate in the blood. These cells, including pro- and anti-inflammatory proteins, neutrophils, T-cells, immunoglobulins, and natural killer cells, help us to fight disease and infection in various ways. Mindfulness, it turns out, may affect these disease-fighting cells.

In several studies, mindfulness meditation appeared to increase levels of T-cells or T-cell activity in patients with HIV or breast cancer. This suggests that mindfulness could play a role in fighting cancer and other diseases that call upon immune cells. Indeed, in people suffering from cancer, mindfulness appears to improve a variety of biomarkers that might indicate progression of the disease.

Mindfulness may reduce cell aging

Cell aging occurs naturally as cells repeatedly divide over the lifespan and can also be increased by disease or stress. Proteins called telomeres, which are found at the end of chromosomes and serve to protect them from aging, seem to be impacted by mindfulness meditation.

Studies suggest that long-time meditators may have greater telomere lengths. In one experimental study, researchers found that breast cancer survivors who went through MBSR preserved the length of their telomeres better than those who were on a waitlist. However, this study also found that general supportive therapies impacted telomere length; so, there may not be something special about MBSR that impacts cell aging.

Mindfulness may help reduce psychological pain

Of course, while the above physiological benefits of mindfulness are compelling, we needn’t forget that mindfulness also impacts our psychological well-being, which, in turn, affects physical health. In fact, it’s quite likely that these changes have synergistic effects on one another.

First of all, a great deal of research suggests that mindfulness can help healthy people reduce their stress. And thanks to Jon-Kabat Zinn’s pioneering MBSR program, there’s now a large body of research showing that mindfulness can help people cope with the pain, anxiety, depression, and stress that might accompany illness, especially chronic conditions.

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Five Science-Backed Reasons Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health


 BY JILL SUTTIE


Suttie, Jill. “Five Science-Backed Reasons Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health.” Mindful, 19 Aug. 2020, www.mindful.org/five-ways-mindfulness-meditation-is-good-for-your-health/.

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[emily]

I chose this article because although mindfulness may not be a cure for all medical issues, I think it is a wonderful and free tool to have in your toolbelt, and it is amazing to hear of some of the benefits. 

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