Meredith Singer | HealthGreatness
Meditation, in its various forms and techniques, is well-known for its physical and mental benefits. Meditation is rooted in the Eastern religion of Buddhism as well as in Hindu traditions, but it is now also widely recognized as a secular practice. Although it is not fully known what happens in our bodies during meditation, research has shown that its effects are overwhelmingly
What is Meditation?
Meditation is often described as a mind-body process used to achieve mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (a common meditation practice), defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding experience moment to moment.” Meditators learn to focus their attention on each experience, without reacting to or judging it. This learned acceptance helps us to achieve a more balanced state, which promotes a less stressed existence.
Meditation contributes to healthy physical aging
- According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) meditation can aid in the treatment of chronic pain and insomnia, two troublesome issues many struggle with as they age.
- It can reduce stress hormones (cortisol) in the body, which are believed to contribute to the aging process.
- The NIH has also found evidence that meditation slows the rate of cellular aging.
- It can revitalize the skin by reducing oxidative stress.
- According to the American Cancer Society, meditation may improve the quality of life for those undergoing treatment for cancer. It can lessen the symptoms associated with both the cancer and the often harsh treatments.
Mediation aids in healthy psychological aging
- Meditation releases pent-up emotions and puts us in a better state of mind to handle challenges.
- It improves mood.
- It is a complementary therapy to anxiety and depression treatment.
- The NIH has found meditation helps with weight loss (being mindful during the act of eating can help avoid overeating and making bad food choices).
- It can help with smoking cessation (and quitting smoking also has its own healthy-aging benefits as well!).
- It promotes overall wellness and feelings of well-being.
How it may work
It is thought that meditation may affect the autonomic (or involuntary) nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that we do not have conscious control over (it regulates heartbeat, breathing, sweating, and digestion, among other things). By increasing activity in the part of the nervous system that slows both heart rate and breathing (sympathetic) and decreasing activity in the part that increases heart rate and breathing (parasympathetic), a less stressed physical state in achieved.
Basically, meditation relaxes the body and calms the mind, thereby reducing both physical and mental stress. Both physical and mental stress are known culprits in the premature aging process, so reducing those stressors should reduce premature aging as well. There is no way to stop aging chronologically, but meditation is great for healthy aging and may even help prevent or complimentarily treat medical conditions that become more prevalent with age.