Thinking about starting a meditation practice, or interested in finding out how your current practice is benefitting you? Read below for the science on 10 of the most significant health benefits of meditation. Includes links to over 25 scholarly articles!
When I decided to try meditating for the first time, I was skeptical. Like many others, I was filled with doubts about whether I could actually meditate.
No way can I empty my brain of thoughts.
I’ll try it, but I’m not actually going to be good at it.
So I’m just supposed to do . . . nothing?
But through my meditation journey, I’ve learned that the goal of meditation isn’t to empty my brain of thoughts; the goal of meditation (mindfulness meditation, specifically) is to objectively recognize when my thoughts have strayed and gently return to this present moment, over and over again.
Through this practice, I have learned how to become an objective observer of myself.
Which is a pretty big deal, after spending most of my life being a brutal self-critic.
To gently transform my default thoughts from inner bully to non-judgmental onlooker is, well, pretty incredible.
In fact, these days, when I step out of my objective observer role, it’s to bring out my inner cheerleader. You see, most of my thoughts about myself now revolve around my own inherent worthiness. I now know I’m capable and deserving of living the best and most beautiful life I envision for myself.
I never imagined this path for myself when I reluctantly meditated for the first time over three years ago.
However, I know that emphatic claims from family, friends, bloggers, and Instagram influencers can only go so far. Most of us need proof that meditation is so much more than just 10 minutes of sitting in silence.
That’s where the science comes in.
When I decided to tackle this subject, I had no idea what I’d find. Are there actually legitimate studies on the science-backed health benefits of meditation?
Yes, it turns out. Lots of them.
To say that I was blown away by the results would be an understatement; there are 1000s of studies and articles out there on the subject. (If you type in “meditation benefits” in Google Scholar, you’ll get over 280,000 results.)
Below, I’ve compiled a list of 10 of the most compelling science-based health benefits of meditation.* These benefits come from multiple peer-reviewed studies and scholarly articles. Links are included in each section!
*Please note that this content is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions regarding meditation and your personal health, please consult your doctor.
Health Benefit #1: Decreases Stress
This is a big one, and I list it first because decreased stress itself results in so many positive health benefits: improvements to your immune system, sleep quality, and weight management, to name a few.
First, I actually want to take a step back for a moment and say this: a little bit of stress in our lives isn’t actually such a bad thing.
Not that long ago, stress prompted our ancestors to run from the saber-toothed tigers. And now in our current world, stress propels us to swerve out of the way from that ongoing car. At its foundation, stress is meant to keep us alive.
But our bodies aren’t wired for the persistent stress we encounter today in work and our personal lives. And that’s why stress has become synonymous with a four-letter word in western culture.
But meditation can help.
Numerous studies have produced findings showing that meditation has a positive impact on a person’s stress levels.1 2 3 Studies even show that the use of a meditation app on your smartphone can significantly improve one’s stress levels. These apps may also generate an overall improvement in wellbeing, job strain, and perceptions of workspace social support.4 (Note that Headspace offered free use of the app over the eight-week period in which the study occurred. However, they did not have any involvement in the actual study or conclusions formed.)
One study evaluated 351 full-time working adults with varying levels of meditation experience. The researchers found that those with more experience had higher levels of emotional intelligence, less stress, and better mental health.5
Health Benefit #2: Improves Mental Health
“Mental health” is a blanket term for one’s overall wellbeing, including our psychological, behavioral, and emotional states. Often, studies on the mental health benefits of meditation specifically focus on depression and anxiety.
One review that assessed 47 clinical trials and 3,515 total participants found evidence of improved anxiety and depression in patients over a period of just 8 weeks.6
Another study showed that meditation retreats resulted in reduced depression and anxiety as well as improved overall quality of life in its participants.7
Another two-year study followed 311 bipolar disorder II patients and found that meditation had positive effects on participants’ guilt, mood, and and feelings of helplessness.8
And lastly, another review found that meditation practices have been shown to be effective in reducing one’s anxiety symptoms.9
Health Benefit #3: Improves Immune System
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that a mindfulness meditation practice can positively change immune function.10 Various other reviews and studies support these findings.11 12
One reason why meditation positively affects the immune system links back to #1 on this list: stress. Stress is known to suppress the immune system and can wreak havoc on the body. This results in chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders, and increased risk of heart disease, among other physical issues. By decreasing stress, a regular meditation practice can help your immune system work properly, just as it’s meant to.
Health Benefit #4: Enhances Brain Health
When it comes to our brain health, I discovered promising evidence showing that meditation can have a significant positive impact.
One study found that meditation increased overall brain network integration. 13 And good news if you’re a non-experienced meditator: another study found that non-experienced meditators practicing just 13 minutes of meditation every day showed increases in mood and focus as well as increased working memory and recognition memory. And to top it off, these short meditation sessions produced similar positive behavioral effects as longer sessions. 14
Finally, another review assessed 13 separate studies, which all reported evidence of significant increases in grey matter in meditators’ brains.15 Grey matter is the outermost layer of the brain. It plays a vital role in how we function normally every day. While there’s still a lot of research to be done, this is compelling and hopeful evidence that meditation may positively impact and even offset neurodegenerative diseases.
Health Benefit #5: Decreases Blood Pressure
Interestingly, transcendental meditation often gets the spotlight when it comes to showing positive impacts of meditation on one’s blood pressure. One study looked at nine clinical trails and found evidence that transcendental meditation could significantly reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure in a “clinically meaningful” way. 16 Another study found that a transcendental meditation practice can result in decreased blood pressure. The researchers noted these findings to be comparable to weight loss and exercise. 17
But it’s not just transcendental meditation that provides these positive results: another study found that non-transcendental meditation can also produce positive effects on blood pressure. 18
Health Benefit #6: Lengthens Attention Span
If you’re in school or have a highly attentive job, this one’s a big deal. One study found that a meditation practice helped to enhance nursing students’ attention span. It also reduced stress and increased mindfulness.19
There’s good news here, too, if you’re unsure whether you want to commit long-term to a meditation practice. Another study followed participants for just five days and found they showed significantly improved attention spans (as well as decreased stress) when they incorporated a meditation practice into their routines. 20
Health Benefit #7: Improves Chronic Pain
Multiple studies provide evidence that mindfulness meditation can improve a person’s chronic pain symptoms.21 22 Additionally, meditation has shown to improve the psychological effects associated with chronic pain. This includes depression and overall quality of life. 23
Side note: If you suffer from chronic pain, check out the meditations on the Insight Timer app specifically created for those who are experiencing constant and extreme pain. Often, the teachers who release these meditations have experienced or are experiencing similar hardships. I know it seems impossible that meditation can make this pain go away, but know that these teachers see and feel your suffering. They’re there to gently guide you to a place where this pain no longer becomes your identity, and you can live in a space of deep calmness.
Health Benefit #8: Improves Sleep Quality
If you’re someone who struggles with getting a restful night’s sleep, meditation may help. One study looked at adults with moderate sleep disturbances and found that mindfulness awareness practices produced better results in improving the participants’ sleep than sleep hygiene education and suggests that these practices could be used to help remediate sleep problems and thus improve overall quality of life. 24
If you experience more prominent sleep problems, there’s some promising news for you, too: the American Academy of Sleep Medicine released findings showing that a meditation practice can be an effective treatment for insomnia. 25
Health Benefit #9: Increases Lifespan
Researchers at UC San Francisco found evidence that meditation may slow the rate of cellular aging. 26 But how exactly does that work? First, we need to understand the function of telomeres. Telomeres are the cap at each end of a chromosome that protects our chromosomes from deterioration. Over time, telomeres shorten and cause our cells to age. This is where you might have heard the concept of biological aging. When you hear that a 50-year-old is biologically only 30 years old, this is because the length of their telomeres is more aligned with what you would typically expect to see in a 30-year-old.
Constant stress is known to negatively impact telomere length. However, the researchers at UC San Francisco found that certain forms of meditation can have beneficial effects on telomere length and increase positive state of mind, thus preventing factors such as stress and depression from shortening telomere length.
Health Benefit #10: Enhances Self-Awareness
While my personal experience is only anecdotal, this is one that I can wholeheartedly speak to. As I mentioned in the intro, meditation has helped me to become an objective observer of myself. Do I still have negative and self-defeating thoughts? Absolutely. But instead of letting myself become consumed by those thoughts, I’m able to step back and notice when they’re happening. And then, after I notice without judgment, I have the power to consciously redirect my thoughts to a more positive place.
The science on this topic suggests I’m not completely off-base for crediting this newfound self awareness to my daily meditation practice. There have been numerous studies and reviews that speak of the positive effect meditation has on one’s own self-awareness. 27 28 29 Another study shows that a mindfulness practice may help reduce “cognitive rigidity,” which allows for more creative problem solving. 30 By becoming more self-aware, you’re able to step back and see the bigger picture, thus allowing you to form different, more creative solutions rather than being blinded by your own past experiences.
While the list above includes ten of the most significant health benefits of meditation, there’s even more evidence out there showing that meditation has the potential to improve our overall mental, physical, and emotional well-being. On top of this (and something I can personally vouch for), it can also enhance one’s own self-image and self-worth. There’s still a ton of research to be done, but the research on the health benefits of meditation that has been done has been extremely promising and overwhelmingly positive.
What personal benefits have you experienced from a regular meditation practice? Submit your answers in the comments below! And if you want to chat more about meditation or have questions about how to get started, feel free to contact me or reach out on social media! I’d truly love to hear from you.
Discover More About Meditation!
- 7 Types of Meditation Practices for Beginners
- What is Mindfulness? Plus 15 Powerful Mindfulness Quotes
- A Beginner’s Guide to Chakras
Zanna Keithley is an author, poet, and social media content creator who writes short prose dedicated to inspiring readers to follow their dreams, trust their intuition, and create beautiful and fulfilling lives. You can find her original writing on Instagram @zannakeithley.