The Newest Research on the Benefits of Meditation for Fitness and Longevity

We’ve all been there — feeling like we’re mindlessly exhausting ourselves on a hamster wheel while we tread an endless list of tasks, worry that we aren’t successful enough, and fear that our entire lives will collapse around us at any moment. Stress, depression and anxiety are the harbingers of the modern, Western lifestyle. And they’re slowly killing us.

There is a growing body of research that is investigating the concept that an imbalance in stress hormones is the root cause of disease1.

Medical science has already shown a causal link between stress and maladies like insomnia, eating disorders, circulatory issues, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Some researchers2 are continuing to draw connections, and they hope to establish a link between stress and all disease.

Regardless of whether or not this field of study pans out, it’s clear that we can improve our health by reducing the impact stress has on our lives, and meditation is at the forefront of the movement for many people to reclaim their mental health.

Meditation soothes our emotions, strengthens our psyche and helps people achieve a deeper connection to the inner workings of their minds. Meditation increases our self awareness and allows us to gain a healthier sense of perspective about ourselves and the world around us. Rather than completely canceling out our thoughts and feelings, meditation helps practitioners acknowledge negative emotions without giving them much more attention. Meditation is a means of altering the mind and encouraging the development of focus, clarity and a positive outlook on life.

Proven Benefits of Meditation

There are several perks to practicing meditation which have been backed by research.

Alleviates Stress and Anxiety

Out of all the reasons why people decide to try meditation, alleviating stress and anxiety are perhaps the most common. Meditation is well-known to be an effective means of reducing stress and anxiety, and studies have proven this association.

When the body and mind are stressed, levels of cortisol — also referred to as the stress hormone —  increase. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to harmful effects, including sleep disruption, anxiety, depression, fatigue and brain fog.

One study3 showed that participants who practiced meditation experienced a reduction in inflammation brought on by stress. Another study found that meditation lowered cortisol levels in adults who suffered from stress4.

Since stress is often a precursor of anxiety, meditation can play a role5 in reducing anxiety as well. A regular meditation practice may also be able to alleviate the unpleasant side effects of anxiety, including paranoia, phobias, anxiety attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Meditation Strengthens Attention

Meditation can help improve our attention spans and help practitioners focus more efficiently. Even short bouts of meditation for only a minimal number of sessions have been shown to be beneficial to a person’s ability to focus and pay attention.

One study found that mindfulness meditation6 was able to improve study participants’ ability to focus their attention and maintain focus for longer. Another study showed that meditation may be able to reverse brain patterns that cause the mind to wander.

Meditation Slows Down Memory Loss

Researchers suspect that meditation may help impede the loss of memory as a person ages. By keeping the mind sharp, memory loss can be effectively slowed.

Studies conducted on elderly study participants who practiced several different meditation styles found a link between mindfulness and an improvement in attention, focus, memory and response times.7

There may also be an association between mediation and an improvement in memory in people suffering from dementia as a result of alleviating stress.

Meditation Promotes Good Sleep

Poor sleep8 can be detrimental to a person’s overall health. Studies have shown that a lack of quality sleep or too little sleep can lead to a slew of medical issues including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Unfortunately, over one-third of American adults9 are not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep at night on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The good news is that meditation may be able to improve sleep and therefore improve overall health and quality of life. One study, in particular, looked at how meditation programs impacted adults versus those who did not practice meditation.

10Those who participated in meditation were able to fall asleep sooner and slept for a longer period of time compared to those who did not practice meditation. This practice can help relax both the mind and body and encourage a state that makes falling and staying asleep much easier.

Different Types of Meditation

There isn’t just one type of meditation. Instead, there are several variations of the practice, and the one you choose will depend on your exact needs.

Mindfulness meditation. This form of meditation encourages people to be aware of their surroundings without judgment. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspect of their current circumstances, practitioners are encouraged to gently notice what’s going on around them while paying attention to their breathing.

Breath awareness meditation. This form of meditation fosters mindful breathing where practitioners are encouraged to breathe slowly and deeply and focus on their breaths. The premise is to spotlight breathing while ignoring any intruding thoughts.

Transcendental meditation. More of a spiritual type of meditation, this practice involves breathing slowly and deeply while seated in an effort to “transcend” the current state of mind and being. Focusing on a saying or specific phrase helps to achieve this state.

Zen or Zazen meditation. Similar to mindfulness meditation, Zen meditation is common among Buddhists and requires self-discipline and practice. It involves getting into a comfortable position, focusing on breathing, and being aware of thoughts without judgment.

Visualization meditation. This variation requires the practitioner to bring up a specific image that is associated with a particular feeling. If the feeling is a negative one, visualization meditation will involve seeing oneself moving away from that image or the image leaving the person.

What to Expect When You First Start Meditating

The idea behind meditation is to achieve a state of calm, relaxation, tranquility, self-awareness and a connection to your spiritual self. But you may notice that the first few times that you try meditating, experiencing calm feelings can be challenging.

It takes time and some practice to be able to achieve these things. In addition, it also depends on the type of meditation that you’re practicing.

It may be helpful to practice meditation under some guidance and in the presence of an experienced instructor.

You might still find yourself unable to focus, which is completely normal given that most people are constantly bombarded with multiple sensations and thoughts happening at once, causing our minds to wander. But over time, your practice will improve, mind chatter will slow, negative feelings and beliefs can be uncovered and dealt with, and a deeper awareness can be achieved.

An Image Of A Guy Meditating In The Mountains

How to Improve Meditation

If you’re having trouble taking a meditation practice to the next level, here are a few tips to deepen your understanding:

  • Meditate at the same time every day
  • Meditate in the same location
  • Meditate before eating
  • Turn off phones, screens and any other distractions
  • Maintain an erect posture
  • Be kind to yourself

Common Misconceptions of Meditation

Those who are unfamiliar with meditation may have developed conclusions and beliefs based on popular myths that have been debunked.

It’s only good for alleviating stress and anxiety. While these certainly are benefits of meditation, there are not the only benefits.

You need to empty your mind. Meditation is meant to calm the mind rather than completely empty it. Your mind won’t go blank, but it will be more focused on exactly what it needs to pay attention to.

All you do is sit and stay quiet. There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into meditating, and it’s a lot more than just remaining in a motionless position and staying quiet for a certain amount of time.

Final Thoughts

A well-rounded, healthy lifestyle should incorporate strengthening the body, mind and spirit. While the foods you eat and the physical activity you participate in are certainly helpful in achieving good health, meditation might be something to consider adding to your regime.

Citations and Sources

1.Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain–body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. [PMC]2.Salleh M. Life Event, Stress and Illness. Malays J Med Sci. 2008;15(4):9-18. [PMC]3.Rosenkranz M, Davidson R, Maccoon D, Sheridan J, Kalin N, Lutz A. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain Behav Immun. 2013;27(1):174-184. [PubMed]4.Orme-Johnson D, Barnes V. Effects of the transcendental meditation technique on trait anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20(5):330-341. [PubMed]5.Carmody J, Baer R. Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. J Behav Med. 2008;31(1):23-33. [PubMed]6.Jha A, Krompinger J, Baime M. Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2007;7(2):109-119. [PubMed]7.Khalsa D. Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;48(1):1-12. [PubMed]8.Division of Sleep Medicine at  Harvard Medical School . Sleep and Health. Harvard Medical. Department of Health . 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep. Center for Disease Control. J, Zeidler M. The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2015;21(6):547-552. [PubMed]

The Newest Research On The Benefits Of Meditation For Fitness And Longevity &Raquo; Lovesurf 2021

Lisa Simonelli Rennie

Lisa is a certified personal trainer and holds a BA in Kinesiology and Health Sciences. In addition to working with others, Lisa loves putting her knowledge and experience in the health and fitness industry on paper as a writer, sharing what she knows and loves with others. When she’s not writing, Lisa loves working out, trying new low-carb recipes, and spoiling her kids (and pet pooch!)

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