Meditation is primarily thought of as a technique for the mind, and with good reason. Studies have shown that meditation can help reduce stress, depression, anxiety and addiction. However, there is also plenty of research out there which shows meditation may have a tangible effect on physical health too. But before we get to that, what exactly is meditation and how is it practiced? According to WedMD, there are a wide variety of methods out there, from saying a mantra to staring at a candle flame to counting breaths. The key is finding what works for you.
So exactly how can meditation help improve your physical health? Researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine had 60 participants with hypertension practice “relaxation response,” which is a meditation technique developed by a cardiologist. After 3 months, 40 out of the 60 subjects were able to reduce their medication intake because their blood pressure had dropped. The researchers said that meditation increases production of nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and subsequently decreases blood pressure.
Meditation may also be able to reduce the risk of heart disease. A study of 40 older adults found that after taking part in an 8-week meditation program, concentrations of the marker C-reactive protein, which is associated with increased risk of heart disease, had reduced.
Stress reduction is clearly one of the biggest reasons people take up meditation, however you may not realize that this occurs because meditation actually helps shape the structure of the brain. The amygdala is a part of the brain that is associated with the way people experience stress. People who meditate regularly show decreased activity in the amygdala during stressful situations, and over time this region of the brain actually decreases in density.
So if you thought meditation was only for monks, think again. Anyone who is concerned about excessive stress and the cardiovascular problems that often come with it, may want to consider practicing these long-standing relaxation techniques.
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