You’ve probably heard people tout all the benefits of meditation, but what does the science actually show?
As it turns out, there’s a ton of research to back up all the benefits of meditation for your mental, physical, and emotional health [*].
So if you need a friendly nudge to start your practice, we’re going to highlight all the reasons to meditate in this guide.
Let’s jump into the most well-known and talked about meditation benefits first:
5 Benefits of Meditation for Your Mental Health
Achieving mental clarity and tranquility is arguably the most common reason people begin meditating. Each session provides a safe space to clear your mind, distance yourself from life’s stresses, and see life from a different perspective.
As a result, meditation may help you:
1. Lower Stress
Meditation is one of the fastest ways to lower stress levels because it trains your brain to respond in healthier ways to stressful situations [*]. If you’re less reactive, stress won’t feel so intense and you’ll recover quicker from stressful events.
Case in point: Researchers asked participants who never meditated to practice 20 minutes of Guided Meditation before playing a stressful computer game. Those who did were better able to cope with the game’s tension than those who didn’t meditate [*].
Extra stressed at work? Employees who meditated once a day at work using a meditation app reported significant improvements in their well-being, distress, job strain, and workplace social support [*].
So why is meditation fantastic for stress relief? Because it gets to the root of what’s making you feel crummy.
Science says mental and physical stress increase your body’s cortisol levels (i.e., the “stress hormone”). This then causes the release of chemicals known as cytokines.
Cytokines are inflammatory, and high levels have been linked to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other adverse health issues.
But here’s the good news: over 200 studies with more than 12,000 participants showed Mindfulness Meditation strategies decrease cytokine levels, which may lead to feeling less stressed, anxious, and depressed [*][*][*][*].
In one study, researchers successfully used a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction strategy to slash psychological stress and stress-related inflammation in just eight weeks [*].
2. Lessen Anxiety
If you’re feeling anxious, meditation allows you to unwind your jumbled thoughts and focus on the present. You may then spend less time ruminating on negative thoughts [*].
This may be why meditation has been shown to lessen the anxiety that comes with:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is characterized by chronic worry and distress. In a trial comparing a Mindfulness-based meditation program to a stress management program, scientists discovered meditation led to a “significantly greater” reduction in anxiety for those with GAD [*].
Meditation was also associated with lower distress ratings, lower reactivity, an increase in positive self-statements, and higher coping abilities [*].
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Mindfulness-based meditation decreases negative emotions, rumination, and negative self-beliefs while increasing self-esteem, all of which help lessen the severity of social anxiety [*][*].
Anxiety and depression from chronic pain. When pain limits what you can do, you may become more anxious and depressed too.
So researchers asked 47 chronic pain participants with anxiety and depression to practice one hour of Mindfulness Meditation three days a week. Those patients reported less pain, anxiety, and depression at the end of the trial and up to one year later [*].
3. Decrease Symptoms of Depression
Meditation trains your mind to redirect negative thoughts, making it one of the best ways to mitigate the effects of depression.
In one review of 47 trials and over 3,500 participants, researchers noticed that Mindfulness Meditation provided relief from anxiety and depression in as little as eight weeks [*].
A meta-analysis of 18 trials featuring 2,042 participants showed Mindfulness Meditation can help reduce depression in young adults (age 12 to 25 years) too [*].
And when meditation was combined with a regular hatha yoga practice, 52 women significantly decreased their anxiety, stress, and depression in just four weeks [*].
Give yourself some much-needed breathing room and book a Yoga Meditation Retreat near the beach, in the forest, or wherever calls to you!
4. Sharpen Your Focus and Attention
So you should think of meditation as a workout for your brain. Just like each workout helps you build muscle, each meditation helps strengthen your brainpower.
In fact, researchers noticed that eight weeks of Mindfulness Meditation helped participants in one study increase gray matter in key areas of their brains responsible for learning and memory processes, emotions, and perspective-taking [*].
In one study, participants who simply listened to a 10-minute recorded meditation had higher attention spans and greater accuracy when completing a task than those who skipped it [*].
And participants in another trial who meditated for just 13 minutes per day enhanced their attention and boosted both working and recognition memory [*].
5. Help Control Cravings and Addictions
When an intrusive thought makes its way into your meditation, you acknowledge and release it. Experts believe the same thing happens for people with addictive behaviors.
Meditation may make people more aware of triggering situations. They can then learn how to redirect their thoughts and urges instead of giving into them [*].
So meditation may help people:
Quit smoking. Several studies have shown that people who learned mindfulness through meditation were much more likely to quit smoking than those who didn’t [*][*]. Plus, these effects were noticed in as little as two weeks [*].
Reduce alcohol dependency. When people were being treated for alcohol use disorder, researchers asked some to practice Transcendental Meditation twice a day for three months. Researchers noticed those who meditated regularly were less likely to return to drinking post-discharge than those who didn’t [*].
Additionally, the more participants meditated, the lower their stress/psychological distress levels, alcohol cravings, and alcohol use [*].
Lessen food cravings and binge/emotional eating. In a review of 14 studies, Mindfulness Meditation helped participants control binge eating, emotional eating, and subdue food cravings [*]. Though results were mixed, this could help with weight loss and other health goals.
7 Benefits of Meditation for Your Physical Health
According to Mayo Clinic, meditation can be a form of “mind-body complementary medicine.”
- Heart disease
- Sleep disorders
- Tension headaches
Meditation may even strengthen your immune system to keep infections, diseases, and harmful inflammation at bay [*].
Specifically, research shows meditation may offer benefits for:
1. Heart Health
When you have high blood pressure (HBP), your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body, putting you at a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies with almost 1,000 participants showed that meditation is even more beneficial for lowering blood pressure in women, older participants, and those with higher BP levels [*].
Meditation may also be highly beneficial for African-Americans, who have a higher risk of heart disease. Researchers studied 200 African-Americans with heart disease and asked half to practice Transcendental Meditation. After five years, they noticed a 48% reduction in the overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause among members in the meditation group [*].
What if your blood pressure tends to rise during times of stress?
A trial involving 298 university students demonstrated that Transcendental Meditation can decrease blood pressure while also lowering psychological distress, anxiety, depression, and anger/hostility [*]. A true win-win!
2. Chronic Pain Management
Many scientists connect the perception of pain to your state of mind. They say feelings of pain tend to increase as stress levels rise. So if you reduce your stress via meditation, you may be able to decrease pain intensity as well [*].
Mindfulness Meditation has been associated with less pain, lower depression, and improved quality of life for people dealing with chronic pain[*].
And when people with chronic low back pain combined Mindfulness Meditation with yoga, they lowered back pain while increasing their range of motion [*].
Meditation may not eliminate the pain, but it helps minimize the distress pain causes.
In one study, scientists subjected 12 long-term meditators and 12 healthy, non-meditators to painful heat while they measured brain scans for their responses. Though researchers saw the pain register on the scans, the group of meditators showed a 40-50% lower response to pain than the non-meditators.
But that’s not the end of the story.
When the 12 non-meditators started meditating for five months and retook the test, their brain scans showed the same amount of pain as before, but their responses to pain decreased by 40-50% too [*].
Meditation may even prevent painkiller overuse or misuse.
Researchers examining a meta-analysis with almost 6,500 participants noticed that since meditation leads to moderate improvements in pain, doctors may be able to reduce opioid doses to curb overuse [*].
Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome that causes people to feel pain and stiffness throughout their body. People may also have chronic fatigue, headaches, mood changes, and trouble sleeping.
Eleven participants with fibromyalgia tried yoga and meditation for eight weeks in one study. According to researchers, they found “significant improvement” in their overall health and reported less stiffness, anxiety, and depression.
Further, participants “felt good” more days than not, and they lowered the number of days they missed work due to their fibromyalgia symptoms [*].
4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Researchers say mindfulness has a therapeutic effect on the severity of symptoms that define irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Researchers asked 75 women with IBS to attend mindfulness training sessions or cognitive-behavioral classes once a week. Both groups noticed positive changes in their quality of life, psychological distress, and anxiety. But the mindfulness group saw greater reductions in IBS symptom severity [*].
5. Ulcerative Colitis
Treatment for people with ulcerative colitis (UC) aims to prevent flare-ups, treat them when they occur, and improve their quality of life. Since stress can trigger UC flare-ups, mindfulness may help lower stress and prevent them.
So researchers randomly assigned 55 patients with UC to either mindfulness practices or treatment as usual. Those practicing mindfulness reported fewer flare-ups and had better quality of life scores [*].
6. Chronic Insomnia
Since meditation can encourage a more relaxed state of mind and less tension, people suffering from chronic insomnia may have an easier time falling and staying asleep when they meditate [*].
7. Age-Related Memory Loss
Can meditation counteract age-related cognitive decline? Researchers learned that many types of meditation and meditation techniques help improve attention, memory, processing speed, and general cognition as we age [*].
Another review highlighted how meditation improves memory in people with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Meditating even helped these patients’ families and caregivers -- who are at a higher risk of mental health risks -- reduce stress and depression [*].
One study showed that long-term meditators (20 years or more) between the ages of 24 and 77 had more grey matter volume in their brains than non-meditators of similar ages [*]. Though this type of grey matter naturally declines as we get older, it seems to dwindle slower for people who meditate.
4 Benefits of Meditation for Your Emotional Health
Meditation allows you to become more self-aware. And when you have a better understanding of yourself and your place in this universe, you may be able to connect more meaningfully with others.
As meditation supports your flourishing into a better person, it might also help you:
1. Increase Social Connectedness
Humans have an inherent need for social connection. A few minutes of Loving-Kindness Meditation helped participants in one study boost positive social emotions and social interconnectivity, which decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation [*].
2. Boost Positive Emotions
College students in one study practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation three times a week and improved their positive emotions, interpersonal relationships, and ability to empathize with others [*].
3. Decrease Negativity Bias
Negativity bias is the tendency to weigh negative information more heavily than positive stimuli. It can lead to pessimistic outlooks and poor moods.
But when people in one study were given new information to process, those practicing Mindfulness Meditation made more positive judgments than those who did not meditate. They also earned higher optimism scores [*].
Meditators and non-meditators in another study were shown positive images (like a happy baby) and negative images (such as someone in pain) while having their brains scanned. The meditators were less reactive to the negative photos than non-meditators. And they had more overwhelmingly positive reactions when seeing something good [*].
4. Find More Kindness for Yourself and Others
Loving-Kindness Meditation teaches you how to consciously develop kindness and compassion for yourself and others.
Evidence from a meta-analysis of 22 studies on Loving-Kindness Meditation shows it can decrease depression while increasing mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion for others, and positive emotions [*]
Researchers in another study compared the effects of Mindfulness Meditation versus Loving-Kindness Meditation on emotions. Both groups reported happier feelings than those who didn’t meditate.
However, those practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation had higher positive emotions toward themselves, which helped improve their emotional well-being [*].
Benefits of Meditation for Kids
Meditation isn’t just for adults! Researchers are finally learning the benefits of meditation for kids and how to put them into practice.
According to the Mindfulness in Schools Project, there’s evidence that meditation helps children and young adults [*]:
- Increase mindfulness and self-awareness
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
- Decrease reactivity, hostility, and conflicts
- Prevent or lower substance abuse
- Improve attention, retention, and academic performance
- Boost self-care, self-acceptance, and self-esteem
- Raise optimism, positive emotions, happiness, and well-being
- Improve their social skills and popularity
- Sleep better
Based on these findings, one school district in San Francisco, CA, added two meditation sessions to the day in some high-risk schools. This trial resulted in fewer suspensions, higher GPAs, and greater attendance rates [*].
Ready To Capture All These Benefits of Meditation?
As you’ve seen today, there are so many benefits of meditation that make it worth the time, effort, and continued practice.
And unlike other self-help remedies that cost a bundle, meditation is totally free and doesn’t have any negative side effects.
So start exploring all the different types of meditation to find the one you connect with. Once you pick up the top meditation techniques, you can meditate while you do the dishes, take your dog for a walk, or need a break from work.
Don’t think you have the time or space to meditate with all the craziness you have going on? Block out some time in your schedule to get away on a meditation retreat!
You’ll notice the benefits of meditation after just one session -- and then you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.